SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
Author: Diane Ackerman
Page Count: 368
Genre: WWII Nonfiction
Tone: Inspiring, Dramatic
Questions composed by MPPL Staff:
1. Would this make a good movie?
2. Was the book what you expected?
3. Were the characters fully realized? Do you feel as though you knew them well?
4. The book is specifically entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife, keeping the focus firmly on Antonina. Was this an effective authorial strategy?
5. Give characteristics to describe Antonina.
6. How did you feel about Jan? Did your opinion change during the course of the story?
7. How old did you picture Rys? Did he mature in the course of the story?
8. Who were some of the more memorable characters? (Human or animal!)
9. Did Han and Antonina anthropomorphize animals and nature? Would you have in their situation?
10. Do you find it unusual that Antonina does not know, nor does she want to know, about her husband’s work? Why or why not?
11. Did you want to know more about Jan’s role in the resistance or more in general about what was being done? Why do you think this wasn’t emphasized in the story?
12. What does Ackerman celebrate in the culture? What does she criticize?
13. Do you trust the author’s account? Is there anything that gives concern?
14. What do you think drew Ackerman to tell this story?
15. Ackerman is a novelist, naturalist, and poet. How do you think her telling this story would differ from a WWII historian’s telling?
16. Jonathan Safran Foer said, “I can’t imagine a better story or storyteller. The Zookeeper’s Wife will touch every nerve you have.” Would you agree? Is the author a great storyteller?
17. Would The Zookeeper’s Wife have worked as a historical novel instead?
18. Did anything surprise you about the portrayal of the Nazis? Did you find any of their ideaology contradictory?
19. Are there any environmental issues from The Zookeeper’s Wife that are still around today?
20. What are the themes of The Zookeeper’s Wife? What personal, societal, political, and scientific thoughts did this book give you?
21. Ackerman states in an interview, “It improved my idea of what a hero is. We tend to think of heroes only in terms of violent combat…but human beings also perform radical acts of compassion…Antonina’s story needs to be told, because it’s a tale of the heroic compassion that so-called ‘ordinary people’ rise to, in every era, and it’s time that they became role models, too.” Did your idea of a hero expand?
22. How does The Zookeeper’s Wife compare to other WWII narratives? To other tales of heroism?
Diane Ackerman’s website
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Diane Ackerman on C-SPAN
Diane Ackerman at the Los Angeles Public Library
Science Friday interview with Diane Ackerman
Powell’s interview with Diane Ackerman
NYT review of The Zookeeper’s Wife
Animal welfare in Nazi Germany
If you liked The Zookeeper’s Wife, try…
Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman