Rating: 2/5 stars
When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.
It is with a heavy heart that I give any book about the holocaust two stars. This is a subject matter that I have a personal connection to and one that I read about in both fiction and nonfiction. I know people who have seen the movie and loved it. I have not yet seen it and I am sure I will like it. But the book is another story.
I found myself fast forwarding through this book, flipping through just to finish it. It was written very dryly and just boring. I am sure that there is a more fascinating way to tell the tale of this Polish couple, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who ran a zoo as well as harboring Jewish people as part of the Polish underground. I ran into this dilemma when I read Hidden Figures. Loved the movie, struggled to get through the book. It was too technical for me and I would have preferred more of the social history and struggles that these women faced which I thought came through more in the movie. To be honest, I originally thought this was a novel. I did not realize it was based on a true story. I thought it would be more intriguing once I knew it was true. This story would have been better served with a different author.