This non-fiction recounts how Antonina Zabinska and husband Jan Zabinski, directors of the Warsaw Zoo and active with the Polish underground resistance during WW11 managed to shelter over 300 Jews escaping from the doomed Warsaw ghetto and hide them at their villa and the zoo’s structures. Remarkably, only 2 of the “guests” were captured by the Nazis and murdered, the others survived. The book is based upon the writings of Antonina Zabinski –the true life zookeeper’s wife, survivor interviews and research.
Set within the gilded cage of the zoo with the horrors of the Holocaust playing out in the background the author who is a poet and naturalist tells a tale of animal camouflage techniques with human survival. The story plays out from the perspective of the Zabinskis and sometime the image is a bit strained. Although the narrative portrays compassion and courage it shies away showing the pain and suffering and adds little to the heroism of the people involved. Being a poet the author’s prose is flowery and filled with metaphors. We have superfluous details described at length: animals, bugs, piano playing etc., and yet barely tell how the people managed to survive. The story bounces around a lot the narrative mainly focusing on animals and unfortunately lost in the shuffle are our two heroes. The characterization is rather flat and could have been more developed and more sensitive yet again they were plunged into trying circumstances.
I join those saying this is a great story but the problem is the way it was transmitted: overly poetic and too centered on the animal world…..