The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeepers Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Diane Ackerman (Adult Non-Fiction)

Jan and Antonina Żabiński were Christian zookeepers horrified by Nazi racism, who capitalized on the Nazis’ obsession with rare animals in order to save over three hundred doomed people.  Their story has fallen between the seams of history, as radically compassionate acts sometimes do.  But in wartime Poland, when even handing a thirsty Jew a cup of water was punishable by death, their heroism stands out as all the more startling.

The Zookeeper’s Wife takes place in Poland from the summer of 1935 to January 1945 with an Aftermath provided by the author.  Ackerman’s exhaustive and extensive research on the Żabińskis was compiled through letters, interviews, diary entries, articles, memoirs, testimonies, Antonina’s autobiographical children’s books, and numerous other sources.  It should be noted that The Zookeeper’s Wife is not historical fiction or anywhere close to it.  Those disappointed in the story’s disjointedness need only remember that this is an in-depth non-fiction about Poland, its population, and the ravages endured during World War II.  Ackerman’s research is comprehensive and immersive and her book should not be compared to a reader’s preconceived expectations—or worse—the movie version.

With that said, the book does go off on numerous tangents.  In addition to the Żabiński’s story, Ackerman delves into such topics as weaning, Greek mythology, the Ice Age, the migration patterns of birds, animal psychology, and Polish folklore.  Needless to say, the author covers the gamut in subject matter.  If this were a road trip, the Żabińskis would be the main freeway.  Every time they come in contact with a new individual—German, Russian, Polish, or Jewish—our story veers off on a side road where we learn about that person’s background, history, hobbies, talents, etc.  Our journey experiences many of these off-road adventures which may thoroughly exhaust some readers while intriguing others.  If you go into this book with realistic and accurate expectations, you’ll discover how the roads of a pair of Christian zookeepers, a German zoologist with an obsession of reviving extinct species, an ill-fated zoo, and a primeval forest in northeastern Poland all converge to save countless lives—both animal and human.

Jan Żabiński once said, “I don’t understand all the fuss.  If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.”  This is the heart of The Zookeeper’s Wife and represents a sentiment that we should never find ourselves keeping hidden away or caged.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.thriftbooks.com

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Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry

Best State Ever

Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

Dave Barry (Adult Non-Fiction)

Poor Florida.  A state that has become synonymous with all things weird, daft, looney, loco, nutty, and just plain one-beer-short-of-a-six-pack crazy.  Don’t believe me?  Just Google “Florida Man” along with your birth month and day and ten times out of ten (or REALLY close to it), a corresponding headline will pop up.  For example, on my birthday, this made the headlines: “Naked Florida man breaks into home, tries on woman’s clothes, police say”.  See?  Well let me tell you something.  Dave Barry is S-I-C-K of people wrongfully labeling his beloved state and he’s set out to defend the good name of his hometown by showing us the lighter and brighter (and not necessarily saner) side of “The Sunshine State”.  So, buckle up because you’re in for an interesting and unforgettable ride!

According to Cosmopolitan magazine, women are attracted to guys with a sense of humor.  If that’s the case, then Dave Barry is one of the sexiest men alive.  With Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, Barry gives us Fodor’s on laughing gas.  His book contains countless (truly) laugh-out-loud moments that makes reading in public a somewhat perilous undertaking…unless you love awkward moments and getting suspicious side glances from complete strangers.  Barry lovingly introduces us to real-life, overlooked treasures and he does so with the warmth, adoration, and pride as a parent would present his first-born to the world.  Through wit and black and white photos, we meet Dave Shealy, operator of Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee; we delight in watching mermaids eat underwater (they get hungry, you know) and waving an American flag at Weeki Wachee Springs; and we get to know more than we ever thought imaginable at the Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs.  Using a Florida Tourist Attraction rating system of Out-of-Order Mold-A-Matics, Barry ranks these unsung heroes on a scale from one to five (five being the BEST…and he even rates one attraction a six, but you have to read the book to discover this hidden gem) and offers valuable insights that only a native can appreciate and share.

Read Best. State. Ever. and I promise (or at least hope) that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry (from laughing), and you’ll probably Google “Florida Man” and your birthday as soon as you finish reading this review.  But mostly, you’ll have fun gaining a whole new perspective and appreciation for a state that was not only known as the birthplace of the “hanging chad”, but is also chockful of anything and everything that is weird, daft, looney, loco, nutty, and just plain one-beer-short-of-a-six-pack crazy.

(Reviewer’s Note: If you love the gloriously quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our unique culture, then I highly recommend you continue your journey with Betsy Carter’s book entitled Swim to Me about the mermaids of Weeki Wachee.  I think Dave would approve.)

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.penguinrandomhouse.com