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Audiobook Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife

by Kim on December 14, 2009 · 31 comments

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Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife
Author: Diane Ackerman
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Audiobook
Year: 2008
Acquired: Library
Rating: ★★★★☆

Summary: Antonina Zabinski always had a way with animals, which made her the perfect women to marry a zookeeper. For many years, Antonina and her husband Jan tended the animals of the Warsaw Zoo with humor and passion. But when the Nazi’s took over Poland, their lives and the lives of the zoo animals are thrown into disarray.

Rather than wallow in the considerable losses caused by the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Zabinski’s fight back, using the zoo and their chaotic home to help Polish Jews escape the Warsaw ghetto and Nazi persecution.

Book Review: The thing I like best about this book was the way Ackerman took one character and one story and used that story to tell a story that was much bigger. Antonina Zabinski was just one Polish woman working against the Nazi regime, but her story lends itself to a broader exploration of the Nazi occupation of Poland and the Polish resistance.

This is a nonfiction book that I think people who love fiction would enjoy a lot — Ackerman isn’t dry at all and tells this story with the same level of character, dialogue, and description I expect in any work of fiction. And it’s a really great story — I don’t know that you could make up a story that was this compelling.

Audio Review: The narrator of this book, Suzanne Toren, was excellent. She had this beautiful way of saying “Antonina” that made me smile every time she said it. The book lends itself to audio quite well. The plot moves along following a timeline, so that makes it easy to follow. And Ackerman does a good job of bringing the reader back to the main story after each diversion from that plot. Overall, it was an easy book to listen to and I enjoyed it (despite my overall lack of yelling to myself in my car as I listened).

Other Reviews: Caribousmom; Fyrefly’s Book Blog; Devourer of Books; Both Eyes Books Blog;

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenny December 14, 2009 at 6:29 pm

This sounds really good – just reading the summary brought tears to my eyes. People are so brave.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Jenny: Absolutely. The parts where the zoo is being destroyed were awful to listen to.Anything with WWII is hard to read, but it’s inspiring to see people taking action against what they see is wrong with the world.

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Kathy December 14, 2009 at 6:34 pm

The book sounds wonderful and sounds like it lends itself to the audio very well!

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Kathy: Yeah, it did. The structure was chronological, so that helped keep things moving forward so it wasn’t confusing.

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diane December 14, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I enjoyed this book and rated it about the same as you did. I did feel certain parts were way too detailed and wordy. Still a very good book though. GREAT REVIEW!

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm

diane: Yeah, some parts were a little wordy. I got distracted during some of the history sections, but never enough to stop reading or feel like I didn’t know what was happening.

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Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) December 14, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I’ve picked this up at the library so many times, but for whatever reason, never checked it out. I think I might have to change that!

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Melissa: You should try it, I enjoyed it a lot! I’m sure it would be a pretty quick read.

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Lisa December 14, 2009 at 8:47 pm

I’ve had this on the tbr list for a while but then I read a few less than glowing reviews and kind of pushed it down the list. Now I’m happy to move it back up.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Lisa: Yay, good! I can see some critiques of it being a little long or a little wordy, but overall I found it quite compelling.

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A Bookshelf Monstrosity December 14, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I was so excited to see this review in my Google Reader; I just checked this book out of the library for some holiday break reading. I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for the review.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 1:57 pm

A Bookshelf Monstrosity: Yay! I think it’ll be a good holiday book (except for all the sad WWII stuff). But overall it’s inspiring, which is good for the holidays.

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Jodie December 15, 2009 at 3:09 am

Very much want to read this, but I didn’t know if it might be overly sentimental?

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Jodie: I didn’t feel like it was too sentimental. There is a lot of bad stuff that happens, but the book tries not to dwell on them too much. The book certainly isn’t rosy or tries to cover up that stuff either. Antonina is a mother, so there are parts where she talks about her son and the impacts of the war on him that might be emotional.

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Jeane December 15, 2009 at 6:50 am

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book. It sounds all the more amazing because it’s a true story. I’ve read so many books (in my teen years) about people being hidden in others’ houses during that time, but in a zoo? How incredible.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Jeane: I love really great books that are also true stories. There’s something about the truth that makes it impact me even more. I don’t usually read WWII books, but the zoo is the part that made me interested — it touches on a lot of those themes, but looks at them from a new perspective.

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Aarti December 15, 2009 at 11:23 am

Ooh, this one sounds interesting- I love juxtaposition of a storyline into the grander scheme of things. Excellent stuff.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Aarti: Yup, me too. Finding a character to tell a bigger story is awesome.

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Kailana December 15, 2009 at 5:10 pm

I really want to read this. I had it out from the library, but ran out of time. I will have to try again!

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:01 pm

Kailana: Yes, try again!

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Belle December 15, 2009 at 6:41 pm

This sounds like a good read. I’ve read one of Ackerman’s books, before (The Natural History of the Senses) and enjoyed her writing style a lot.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Belle: I did too. It was very smooth, which lent itself pretty well to listening. The narrator was great, too.

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Teresa December 15, 2009 at 7:02 pm

I’ve had this on my list for quite a while; there was a great story on This American Life about it, and that piqued my interest. I’ll probably end up listening to the audio instead of reading it, so I’m glad to hear that worked for you!

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Teresa: The audio was nice, like I said, because the narrator was excellent and British. I’m sort of a sucker for listening to people with an accent :)

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Jeanne December 16, 2009 at 11:26 am

I am a fan of Ackerman, so will look for this one. It sounds good for my commute, if I can find the audio version at my library.

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Kim December 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Jeanne: Yeah, it would be a good commute book, except for the parts where exciting stuff is happening (I didn’t want to stop listening!).

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Anna December 17, 2009 at 11:36 am

This one has been on my to-read list for awhile. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t get to it in time for the WWII challenge, though.

It’s always good when nonfiction isn’t dry. I’m glad to hear this one is good.

I hope it’s okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations

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Kim December 18, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Anna: This would have been a good WWII book since it has such a unique story to tell. And it’s definitely ok to link, thanks!

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Rebecca December 19, 2009 at 12:31 am

I didn’t even realize that this book was nonfiction. I’m even more intrigued about it than I was previously.

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Kim December 20, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Rebecca: I think I thought the same thing when I first saw a bunch of reviews of it last year. I was excited to find out it was nonfiction, too.

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