The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman is a high interest nonfiction account of the German invasion of Warsaw told from the perspective of Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski. Diane Ackerman skillfully weaves together historical events of both horror and beauty.
The Zabinski’s, Active in the Polish underground, used the zoo as an unusual hiding place while attempting to carry on with the care of the animals, operating of the facilities as usual, and raising their children. Tales of the animals and the day to day operation of the zoo during this occupation break up the recounting of the people and their struggle to survive. Ackerman depicts the life and people of the Warsaw ghetto, giving us a glimpse into the terrible history.
A vast number of people passed through the zoo, and this book is brimming with anecdotes, bringing to life the characters. The narrative is full of interesting details on how people avoided detection and the extraordinary lengths and methods taken.
Ackerman delves into the history of the German mindset and recounted some of the experiments carried out by the Nazis. This retelling of history is not as graphic as others I have read, but the ideology exposed chills the soul.
The ZooKeeper’s Wife is a story of compassion and daring, and a story of real lives saved and lost. I would classify this as a necessary history, an exposition of humanity both good and evil. Well worth the read.
I listened to the audiobook on CDs. The book seemed to have a slow start, but the narrative garnered more of my interest as I listened.
What is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption about?
Unbroken: A World War II Story is Louis Zamperini’s story, written by Laura Hillenbrand. Most of the narrative takes place during WWII, complemented by the story of Louis’ somewhat troubled youth and subsequent athletic accomplishments as an Olympic runner and completed by finding peace in 1949 after hearing Billy Graham share the gospel message.
Reactions and Thoughts
If you only read one book this year, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand may be one to consider. I am not a huge war story fan, but this tale was so incredible and the book well written that I was highly engaged the entire time. It is entertaining and inspirational, while at the same time providing a look back to history through a first hand account.
There were some places in the latter portion of the book when I had to put it aside. It was too disturbing, but for the most part the story was detailed enough to keep me turning pages without being overwhelming. It brought the experiences of our service men to life and sparked an interest that had me researching for more of the history. It made me question how man can participate in acts such as those described in Unbroken.
This example of the tenacious quality of the human spirit amazed me. The redemption of Louis Zamperini was moving. Even after overcoming impossible circumstances, he found there was still a need for God’s grace. Following Louis to the point where he was able to forgive those who committed such crimes against him was inspiring. He found a completed freedom in his submission to God, enabling Louis to experience a healed soul.
I was totally engrossed in this story. I would recommend this book for anyone, but would preview before handing to my teen. There is another version directed toward YA I have yet to read, but plan to.
Remembering the Unbroken Spirit of Louis Zamperini
Issues of Concern
War, torture, death, deprivation, alcoholism, PTSD, abuse, domestic violence, Louie’s behavioral struggles in his youth
Study Guides and Reading Guides for Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Quotes from Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
“When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him.”
“Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty.”
“His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him a laughing equanimity even in hard times.”
“The paradox of vengefulness is that it makes men dependent upon those who have harmed them, believing that their release from pain will come only when they make their tormentors suffer.”
“Louie dug out the Bible that had been issued to him by the air corps and mailed home to his mother when he was believed dead. He walked to Barnsdall Park, where he and Cynthia had gone in better days, and where Cynthia had gone, alone, when he’d been on his benders. He found a spot under a tree, sat down, and began reading. Resting in the shade and the stillness, Louie felt profound peace. When he thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him. He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away. That morning, he believed, he was a new creation. Softly, he wept.”
“Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors.”