The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane AckermanThe Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

byDiane Ackerman

Paperback | August 26, 2008

Pricing and Purchase Info

$19.76 online 
$21.95 list price save 9%
Earn 99 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Available in stores


After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these "guests," and human names for the animals, it's no wonder that the zoo's code name became "The House Under a Crazy Star." Best-selling naturalist and acclaimed storyteller Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story—sharing Antonina's life as "the zookeeper's wife," while examining the disturbing obsessions at the core of Nazism. Winner of the 2008 Orion Award.
Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the best-selling The Zookeeper's Wife and A Natural History of the Senses. She lives in Ithaca, New York.
Title:The Zookeeper's Wife: A War StoryFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8.3 × 5.5 × 0.9 inPublished:August 26, 2008Publisher:WW NortonLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:039333306X

ISBN - 13:9780393333060

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was so excited to read this book, but it did not live up to my expectations. Most of the book was very slow moving and hard to get through.. it felt like torture to get through it. Not worth your time.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Different This book is written very differently. There is information and quotes out of the diary of Antonina, yet the author doesn't have all the information so she has to make up some of the context and conversations. It is very different. I had a hard time following it just because I couldn't pronounce a lot of the places, street names, and some names of the people. I'm not jumping at the chance to recommend this too people, but I still thought it was quite good and people would enjoy it. Proceed with caution thought. It heavily leans towards a textbook vs a story book.
Date published: 2018-06-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I wanted to love it... I expected to read a war story but instead I got a lot of facts about insects and animals. For me it was hard to stay interested and focused while reading this book as the war story was broken up by whole chapters full of info about animals.
Date published: 2018-05-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not the Movie I was really excited for this book - after seeing the movie - I am a big advocate of the book is always better. I was sorely disappointed in this one. Although it was a worthwhile read I wouldn't rush out to recommend. Was slow and dry the majority of the time and I was constantly searching for it to grab me, but it just didn't.
Date published: 2018-05-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Ugh.... I really wanted to love this book. I was looking forward to reading it forever! But its slow and dry and really hard to read. Its left me thinking "why are you telling me this" almost all the time! It was a real trial to get to the end. I wanted to quit on several occasions but kept thinking it would get more interesting and the disjointed writing would make sense... I was wrong... it ended with a lack lustre ending just as tedious as the rest of the book
Date published: 2017-08-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good history lesson I realize this book was pieced together from journals and many different sources, but it is also written in a disjointed manner. I learned a lot about the Warsaw Zoo pre war, and the stories of suffering and survival under the Germans were well portrayed.
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Had a great opportunity, but missed the mark Unfortunately I can't push myself to read this anymore. The constant switch from third and first person narrative is very strange and feels more like reading an essay. While this is an important war story to tell, I'll wait for the movie adaptation.
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Zookeeper's Wife A well written and interesting account of life in Poland during WWII, told from the perspective of the wife of a member of the Polish resistance. Jan and Atonina Zabinski were in charge of the Warsaw Zoo at the onset of the war and the story follows their activities in the Polish underground.
Date published: 2015-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story A compelling and interesting story of one bite of life during the war that tells and gives insight to the bigger story of WWII. This is a great read and especially shows how war effects every aspect of life. It's a inspiring story of how one, two people and one family can make a huge difference during times of adversity in spite of horrific obstacles to overcome. This family helped so many find haven and help--both animals and humans!
Date published: 2013-03-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loved all the info about the animals 4.25 stars Antonina and Jan ran the Warsaw Zoo in Warsaw, Poland before World War II. Once the war hit, they used their villa (where they lived on zoo grounds) and even some of the animal enclosures to hide people. The zoo itself went through a few identities during the war: from a zoo to a pig farm to a fox fur farm. Jan also worked in the "Underground", helping people that way, as well. I thought this was really good. I loved all the info about the animals, and how much Antonina and Jan cared about them, as well as all the people they were helping. Animals are often forgotten in emergency situations, so it's nice to see some people who really tried to do as much as possible for theirs. I learned a few things about the Nazis, too - about what they thought of animals and nature. It is a different type of WWII "story" (I've put story in quotes because this is nonfiction), for sure.
Date published: 2011-09-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Polish WWII story of Heroism Jan and Antonina Zabinski are the keepers of the Warsaw zoo when WWII starts and Poland is invaded. Their life before the invasion is a life of caring for the animals even to the point of keeping sick animals in their home with them to heal and recover. The Germans move into Warsaw and set up their headquarters right beside the zoo. As the war progresses and the Warsaw Ghetto is created, the resistance movement becomes stronger and Jan and Antonia become involved. They house many Jews over the course of the war some for longer periods and some for very short periods. They house resistance workers. They use the former houses of the animals and the bombed out structures of the zoo. They had 'lost' their animals to German zookeepers who came and looted the animals. This is a true story and one can only wonder at the bravery of this couple. This book depicts the hatred of the Germans for not only the Jews but also the Poles. The horror and absolute terror the Germans used is sickening. I did not realize the Germans were also interested in the perfection of certain animal species. This story is an interesting one but at times the author got bogged down in details of natural history. The insect collection of a Pole was described for pages. I found the writing to be a bit choppy and scattered. I would also have liked to hear more about the Zabinskis after the war.
Date published: 2010-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A beautiful story If you have trouble reading this book, you might want to try reading Ackerman's A History of the Senses. You'll get more familiar with her writing style there, which is very descriptive and peppered with anecdotes that appear a little like tangents (happens in The Zookeeper's Wife) but really just add to the tapestry weaved by her prose. Her writing style and the anecdotes are what make The Zookeeper's Wife a different kind of war story. She brings in other elements and details, which give you an idea of daily life in Warsaw (pre- and post-war) as it has been lived by the Zabinskis or other individuals. It's definitely worth the read but like any book, you just have to be in the mood.
Date published: 2009-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An amazing story of the ability of the mind to access our survival instincts The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman An amazing story of the ability of the mind to access the survival instincts we don't even know we possess. One woman's story of utilizing the Warsaw Zoo after semi-destruction and the loss of animals to German zoos or outright shooting, to rescue hundreds of Jews as a part of the Underground. Chapter 1 takes place in 1935 and gives a jump-off point of life at the zoo before the horrors to follow. While Diane Ackerman has obviously done a great deal of research and interviewed many witnesses, her book occasionally appears to get sidetracked. In one section the war is going on and suddenly it is over as she discusses Hasidism and seems to switch into the time after the war (e.g. 1960s) and talks about the results of the war in the past tense although the chapter is actually in 1941. Over these few pages there is almost a calm, and then we are taken back into the war. I felt these instances could have possibly been brought out in notes rather than interrupting the flow. However, perhaps there was a feeling of necessity to the plot that I didn't see at the time. It may simply have been a quieter time in the course of what was going on in Warsaw before another heavy bombardment of war, dehumanization, the beginning of the "liquidation" of the Ghetto and the nearing of the Allies (some of whom apparently were not allies to Poland). I love the way the author portrays the life at the villa, going along its own unique way. A new kind of normal to most inhabitants, permanent or traveling through. The most amazing mixture of people and animals interacting as one is wonderful to see, both heartwarming and indicative of how humans and animals learn to survive. The lessons given on how to appear normal when caught out on the street, taking on the subtle characteristics of the perceived purer class apparently worked very well. Antonina seems to have the gift of communicating with the animals to such an extent she has learned how to be invisible, when to be still, how to observe, and many other animal instincts which she draws upon quite naturally in times of danger. It would appear that Diane Ackerman has become Antonina in her writing at times, a part of her character; she seems so completely a part of the story, possibly because the foundation of her writing is based on Antonina's journals and diaries. Antonina appears to be a dark horse, outwardly appearing calm when she is "frightened to death" for her family, husband Jan, who is in the Underground Army, her son Rys, and later the birth of her daughter Teresa. While frightened when stopped by German soldiers, she thinks in her mind over and over such things as "put away your gun" while coming up with a plausible answer in a normal voice, and almost as though she were a hypnotist, the gun would be put away and she would be on her way unscathed. This is a very interesting book, I learned a great deal about Polish and Jewish customs and history, and certainly I learned how devastated life and the country itself was during and at the end of WWII. I knew little about Poland and this was a very important book to me. There was enough softening and humor in the telling of the antics at the villa, but still the horror comes through of the Jewish Quarter, the Ghetto, the bombings, the deliberate burnings, the annihilation of not just the Jews, but the Polish people were also to be annihilated. This book is a must-read if we are ever to find an end to racism and despotism. I highly recommend this book to anyone.
Date published: 2008-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing story of survival The only other book I'd read about WWII was Diary of Anne Frank. Here is another story of the trials and tribulations, the horrors of war. Amongst great tragedy are heroes, everyday people who risk their own lives to save others. This story describes the devastating loss of zoo animals and their keepers taking on humans in need in the animals places.
Date published: 2008-11-25

Editorial Reviews

It is no stretch to say that this is the book Ackerman was meant to write. — Los Angeles Times

Diane Ackerman has surpassed even herself in her latest book, which is alternatingly funny, moving, and terrifying. This powerful thriller would be a great novel--except that it is true. — Jared Diamond