Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story The Mermaid Statue

By Diane Ackerman

The Mermaid Statue

Part of Your World

The not-so-little mermaid known as Syrenka is a the real-life symbol of Warsaw. Diane Ackerman draws a comparison between Antonina and the mermaid once, at the very beginning of the book, saying, "[Antonina] reigned as mammal mother herself and protectress of many others. Not an outlandish image in a city whose age-old symbol was half woman, half animal: a mermaid brandishing a sword" (1.31).

This is Ackerman's way of showing us early on that she sees Antonina as someone who is half woman, half animal, in a way. Antonina, as the zookeeper's wife, blends both her human nature and her animal instincts together in order to survive the war.

We would just leave it at that, but Ackerman revisits—literally—the mermaid statue in the book's final chapter. We say "literally" because Ackerman herself treks to Warsaw and lays her own eyeballs on the statue of Syrenka.

Symbolism can be hard to find in real life, but in Warsaw, Ackerman basically brings a big neon arrow that says "SYMBOL ALERT! SYMBOL ALERT!" and points it at that statue. She's both reaffirming her earlier description of Antonina as half woman and half animal, and she is imagining Antonina herself visiting the statue and seeing it as a symbol of herself.

It is likely Antonina saw the statue, but do you think Antonina would see herself in the statue? If so, what aspects of herself would she see in it? The fierceness? The independence? The layer of pigeon poop? Or would she think Nice statue, bro, and move along?

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