Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Zookeeper's Wife - Book Review

It's hard to read a book about Holocaust and be objective about it in the review. Somewhere down the line you realize you're too angry/emotional to form a single coherent sentence. And when a book can affect a non-Jew so, I sincerely feel for those millions mourning their losses. Nothing really is going to make it even.

Have you ever watched those Dicovery Channel documentaries? On Einstein or Newton? There is a voice in the background which narrates the story, and as the story moves along there are small snippets of conversation with contemporaries from that period or other historians who've researched the story.

Imagine the same for the book. Diane Ackerman is the narrator, the Warsaw zoo in occupied Poland is the setting, and Jan & Antonia Zabinski, the actors of this war story. Initially I was put off by the documentary style of storytelling but as the story progressed, I got pulled in and was completely mesmerised by Ackerman's storytelling prowess.

There's a lot of pages devoted not just to the temperament of the hidden Jews but also to the mood swings of the animals under Antonia's care (There's an entire page listing the different kinds of beetles). As humans we tend to judge every catastrophe by the human loss registered but never give a thought to the countless animals lost in the struggle. Through Ackerman's words, we come to see how Antonia thought of everyone who had come under her wings for protection, both human and animal.

One hitch I faced is Ackerman's use of some really big words; I needed the dictionary to understand some of the sentences. As poetic as the prose may sound because of those words, I felt I was being slowed down trying to understand the author when the story is much more interesting.

That said, this is a powerful book bringing to light another page from our sordid bloody world war past. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone wanting to read more about The Holocaust and WWII.

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