Welcome to the 8th book in the Literary Wives series!
As I started reading this book I was a bit surprised as I expected more of a historical fiction format, and felt as if I was reading a documentary. Once I had read the first 30 pages or so I was enthralled, however! Ackerman has a real knack for descriptors and making the reader feel as if you are standing in Poland, seeing and experiencing everything as you read, as if you are one of the characters.
I appreciated the outline of research completed to write this book as contained in the Author's Note at the beginning; I am always interested to know just how the author has compiled notes, etc. Although I have read about WWII before, I had no idea of the Nazis' great interest in "purifying" animal bloodlines. For example, Lutz Heck, one of the Nazi higher-ups, along with his brother Heinz, was "completely infatuated" with "the resurrection of three pureblooded, extinct species--the neolithic horses known as forest tarpans, aurochsen (the wild cow progenitor of all European cattle breeds), and the European or 'forest' Bison." The Heck brothers had produced some near Aurochsen and tarpans of their own just prior to WWII, however, the Polish strains "ran truer to type" and were "the clear inheritors." (Was that good or bad news for the Zabinski's?) Lutz appeared at the Warsaw Zoo one day pledging his "help," however, as Antonina stated, "For all we know he may just be playing with us. Big cats need little mice to toy with." Per a mutual friend, Antonina had been told that she reminded Lutz of his first great love, and while she was flattered by his attention and did find him to be "a true German romantic, naive in his political views and conceited perhaps, but courtly and impressive," she was also wary and distrusting of him and his motives. As well she should have been!
"Under the Third Reich, animals became noble, mythic, almost angelic..." However, in contradiction to this, the high-level Nazi officers got drunk and went on shooting sprees in the zoos, simply shooting animals dead in their cages! Antonina described the heartbreak and sorrow she felt as she heard the shots and realized all the zoo's animals would be dead. Jan was a "devout scientist" who credited Antonina "with the metaphysical waves of a nearly shamanistic empathy when it came to animals," claiming she was so sensitive to them, it was as if she could read their minds. Listening to them die had to be particularly heart wrenching after all the care Antonina had heaped upon these animals to make sure they were well-fed, healthy, and happy. These animals were like family members to both her and her son.
|Antonina with Tofi and Tufa, two baby lynx kittens she|
spent 6 months bottle-feeding and who remained
dependent upon her for another 6 months until they
reached one year of age.
|Anonina and Jan feeding a baby bird.|
According to Jan: "Antonina was a housewife, she wasn't involved in politics or war, and was timid, and yet despite that she played a major role in saving others and never once complained about the danger."
1) What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife? Jan's comment above angered me. Exactly how was she NOT "involved in politics or war"? Just because she wasn't out and about the way he was didn't mean she wasn't responsible for all 300 people reaching safety. In fact, only 2 of these 300 didn't survive the war! She was the "leader" of this small group in the villa and totally responsible to care for and prevent the discovery of these "guests." To discount her as simply a "housewife," is, I believe, quite insulting! As usual, no matter how much a woman contributes, it seems those contributions are always viewed as less important than those of a man. I urge anyone doubting that to read this book and note how deftly Antonina handled many situations with brutal soldiers, saving not only herself, but all those for whom she was responsible while Jan was gone. She exhibited unbelievable bravery and courage, all while pregnant, then straddled with a newborn, etc. She has my utmost respect; I feel most anyone else may well have "blown it" and been unable to adapt and flex so quickly to avoid annihilation. Though I guess none of us knows how we might handle such extreme situations until we are there.
2) In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined by "wife"?
I wonder what Antonina might have done with her life if she hadn't married Jan. But since she was the "wife of a zookeeper," her days were never dull! She was constantly overseeing the care and nurturing of all the animals, large and small, with a menagerie living with them in the villa. In addition, she ran the household and had her own child/children to raise. As was typical in this time period, society defined her by her role of wife, and I don't believe she resented this overall, though she did feel defeated that Jan didn't publicly acknowledge her accomplishments. She certainly proved many times over she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself and others! She certainly did much more than just serve as a "housewife," in my opinion!
Check out the other bloggers' reviews as well:
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J
Ariel of One Little Library
Audra of Unabridged Chick
Carolyn of Rosemary and Reading Glasses
Cecilia of Only You
Kay of whatmeread
Reviews to be posted the first Monday in June.
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