Here is a true story – of human empathy and its opposite – that is simultaneously grave and exuberant, wise and playful. Ackerman has a wonderful tale to tell, and she tells it wonderfully … A story like this could easily devolve into Dr. Doolittle-like sentimentality. Ackerman avoids mawkishness in two ways. First, the horrors of the Holocaust seep into almost every page, just as they should. The Zabinski household may have maintained a determined joie de vivre, but we never forget that the Guests' time in the ghetto has transformed them from accomplished, vibrant people into broken, hunted prey...Equally important, Ackerman refuses to romanticize nature. She knows that the animal world is full of – in fact, depends upon – deception and violence, and that a person's immersion in the natural world is no guarantee of goodness.
Cool-headed, with nerves of steel, Jan undertakes missions as suspenseful as the plot of any top-notch thriller. Antonina, exhibiting equal grace under pressure, and even more vulnerable after the birth of their daughter, survives more than her share of terrifying encounters with Nazis … It is no stretch to say that this is the book Ackerman was meant to write...Every rapturous hour she has spent communing with plants and animals, every insight gleaned into human nature, every moment under the spell of language is a steppingstone that led her to Poland, the home of her maternal grandparents, and to the incomparable heroes Jan and Antonina Zabinski. The result of her tenacious research, keen interpretation and her own ‘transmigration of sensibility’ is a shining book beyond category.
With its biblical allusions, cuddly characters and well-covered historical subject matter, The Zookeeper's Wife might have been a gamble, had anyone else but Diane Ackerman tackled it. Not surprisingly, the writer who brought us A Natural History of the Senses succeeds not only in averting these pitfalls but also in using them to her advantage, crafting a fresh and compelling addition to Holocaust literature … Ackerman is known for her love of digression, sometimes slipping in anecdotes of questionable relevance, but here she succeeds in dovetailing research on a number of seemingly dissimilar topics, keeping readers equally hungry for more on the fauna-smitten Zabinski family, the quirks of their animal charges and the clandestine inner workings of German-occupied Warsaw.