Man, I have been having the worst luck with Holocaust books, lately.
The Zookeeper’s Wife was recommended to me by a dear friend. The story itself is actually quite remarkable. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, who ran the Warsaw Zoo during World War II. After Poland was taken over, Antonina (the titular character) and Jan began helping the Underground by harboring Jews in the zoo, in the animals’ empty cages.
It really was amazing, how they used their zoo and their wits to save lives and to survive themselves during this harsh and uncertain time.
So why did I only give it two stars? Because, dear God, Ackerman’s writing made me want to puke. I mean, it wasn’t Tatiana-de-Rosnay-bad, but it was pretty bad. Basically, what Ackerman did was read through Antonina’s letters and interview surviving relatives and stuff. Then she thought to herself, “What must Antonina have been thinking? What must Antonina have been feeling?”
But I highly doubt that Antonina thought of herself as a character from a book, and that she didn’t organize her thoughts as though her mind was a screenplay. There was a forced drama to Ackerman’s writing that, to me, cheapened the genuine gravity of the events of the book.
And maybe this part isn’t Ackerman’s fault, and I know I’m pickin’ nits, here, but I also took issue with the dust jacket book summary, which made a big deal of the Żabińskis being Christian. That’s actually why my dear friend recommended the book to me: “It’s a really great story and it’s so interesting and, oh, they were Christians and –”
There were nothing but cursory mentions of God in the book. I’m not saying that I think the Żabińskis were bad people just because they didn’t God it up enough to satisfy the likes of me — far from it; they were heroes — but I did feel a little misled. I’d expected there to be much more in there about how their faith informed their decision to join the Underground, and it just wasn’t in there. And, from what I could gather, they were Catholic. Get your facts straight, publishers. That’s just lazy.
I think that the Żabińskis’ story is incredible, and I think they deserved a better write-up than they got. I hope that, someday, some other writer does this story justice and washes the memory of The Zookeeper’s Wife from my brain.