Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

Whose Zoo Is It, Anyway?

The title makes it seem like Jan is the zookeeper and Antonina is simply is wife, as if she has little to do with the zoo or its animals. But in face, Antonina appears to be closer to the animals than Jan is, and once Jan goes to war, she spends more time at the zoo than he does.

But we can't rename the thing The Zookeeper's Husband, because that would mislead people into thinking the book was about Jan. The story mostly focuses on Antonina, although even that is a little misleading, since two chapters don't feature Antonina or Jan at all. The book is more about Poland during World War II, with Antonina as the central point on which the rest of the story pivots.

Putting aside the focus of the book and returning to the title, what's up with it? Really? The book falls into the questionable 21st-century tradition of naming a book after a female character's relationship to a man. The Time Traveler's Wife. Ahab's Wife. The Memory Keeper's Daughter. The Aviator's Wife.

The idea is generally to present a familiar story from a woman's perspective—but that not's actually what's going on here, exactly. In those books, the time traveler's wife is not a time traveler. The aviator's wife is not an aviator. Ahab isn't married to himself. But in this book, Antonina takes care of the zoo more than her husband does. Why not just title it The Zookeeper or The Zookeepers and leave it at that?

Maybe the point is that we expect the story to be about the male zookeeper, when really, it's his wife who does most of the zookeeping. But still.

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