I finished reading Daine Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife a few days ago. My final review is rather delayed (you can read my first one here). I just can't seem to place my feelings for the book down onto paper... or cyberspace.
Ackerman tells the real-life tale of a couple in Warsaw during the Second World War. The couple, zookeepers by trade, find their zoo bombed and animals gone within the initial outbreak of war. Throughout the rest of the war, the couple assist Jewish individuals escaping the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi brutality by hiding them in the zoo's animal cages. Ackerman furthers her tale with accounts of Nazi eugenics and the manipulation of human, animal, and plant genetics. National Socialists wished to remove non-Aryan people, non-Aryan animals, and non-Aryan plants from the world.
I've heard both good and bad comments about Ackerman's work. Some fellow bloggers have suggested that the book went into too much detail about little obscurities. Others have thoroughly enjoyed the work. So, where do I stand?
I'll start by saying I picked up The Zookeeper's Wife under false pretenses. I purchased the book in September 2010 believing that Ackerman had created a fictional account of the Holocaust. But, in late February 2011 I found myself reading an undeniably non-fiction book. Primary sources were quoted (the zookeeper's wife's personal diary, for instance), secondary sources were cited (such as historians accounts of Poland during the Second World War), and there were lots of long sentences containing numerous facts.
Despite the overload of facts (yes, I'll admit there is a lot that could be cut out of the work), I really did enjoy reading The Zookeeper's Wife. Maybe it is the History major in me coming out. Over the last five years I have read a great deal of non-fiction historical accounts for university. I must say, Ackerman's work was one of the best.
I was most pleased with Ackerman's ability to tell an engaging story while being faithful to historical facts and guidelines for writing History. I love the fact that she did not superimpose false voices onto real-life characters. Ackerman doesn't lend thoughts, desires, and dialogue to the characters. Instead, Ackerman quotes personal diaries to make characters multidimensional. It is refreshing to find a non-fiction account of a historical event that lends personal qualities to its characters without the author overextending his or her creative license.