It’s a fascinating history. The Zabinskis’ ingenuity in turning the devastated zoo grounds into, at various times, a pig farm, public vegetable gardens, a weapons depot for the Underground resistance, and the way-station for smuggled Jews, is on display in every chapter. Right under the noses of the Gestapo, they put their own family and friends at risk again and again to help others. It’s the kind of story–like that of Oskar Schindler in Thomas Keneally’s Schindler's Ark–that somewhat restores our faith in humanity in the face of inhumane catastrophe.
That said, I struggled with the book itself. Ackerman includes so many digressions into secondary and tertiary subjects that the narrative all but disappears for pages at a time. At a vital time in the human drama, for example, she suddenly launches a multi-page dissertation on the insect collection of one of the people passing through the zoo’s villa. All of the digressions are fastidiously researched, of course, but they are forever derailing the human drama that I was longing to see developed more directly.
At times, I also feel the prose is over-written, creating distance between the reading experience and the narrative. As I read, I kept wondering how Erik Larson might have told the same story.
I am drawn to World War II stories, as you know if you’ve read many of my reviews. But this historical account of what should have been a dramatic and tension-ridden story, came across as dull and lifeless. It’s a shame because it truly is a remarkable tale. I’m on the fence as to whether I should watch the film version. Do you recommend it?