“The New York Times bestseller: a true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands”… It might be a best seller but I understand why it only has 3 1/2 stars on Goodreads. I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. I have 2 main problems with this book and I will try to explain them. So here is my review of The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.
The story could have been so great, but the execution is sloppy. My main problem with this book is that it is written like a research paper mixed with an analysis of the main character’s diary – the author feels the need to support and justify her points and claims with citations from both Antonia’s diary and secondary sources. Every time the author makes a claim about Antonia’s thoughts or feelings she supports it with a (sometimes very long) citation from her diary. This is so unnecessary for the story and it also disrupts the flow of the narrative. We know that the book is based on a real story and I think the author is trying to bring this into the book by using the citations but, in my opinion, it takes away from the story. It makes this very horrible and heartfelt story feel cold and studied instead of making my feel for the characters and what they went through.
The other main problem I have with this book is that the author keeps stating meaningless things and facts that are not relevant to the narrative in any way – none of these things add anything of value to the story and mainly just take up space. Here is one example of this: when Antonia gives birth to her second child the author uses 2 pages to list polish folklore about what to do and not do when you are pregnant. It is so irrelevant to the narrative as it doesn’t relate to the storyline and she doesn’t come back to it at any point after. It seems like this information is just in the book to fill the pages and to prove the author’s research and knowledge about polish culture. Another example is from when Rys is in the hospital. Here the author begins to explain the origin of penicillin in the middle of a paragraph as to explain why Rys was not given penicillin. She goes into great detail about the discovery and development of penicillin but it has no relevance to the storyline, so again it seems like she just uses this to fill the pages.
There are many other things wrong with this book and I feel like Diane Ackerman was not the right person to tell this story. I think this could have been such a good book if the author had not relied on such extensive research to tell the story. It seemed more like a research paper and not a historical novel. The topic of WW2 is so heavy, horrible and emotional, and I’m usually a very emotional person and cry when I read these very heartfelt and emotional books, but here I felt nothing. So I gave this book one star. That might seem hard but this book needs revision. It’s a great first draft, but the editor/publisher should have edited the shit out of this before it was published.
That being said, I think I will still watch the movie even though it’s based on this book but I’m hoping the director has chosen to focus on the storytelling and not so much the cold hard facts.