Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Warfare

By Diane Ackerman


Chapter 2

"Adolf has to be stopped," one of the keeps insisted. Jan knew he didn't mean Hitler, but "Adolf the Kidnapped," a nickname given to the ringleader of the rhesus monkeys, who had been waging war with the oldest female, Marta, whose son Adolf had stolen and given to his favorite mate, Nelly, who already had one baby of her own. (2.1)

This line gives a bit of foreshadowing about the upcoming war. Although we know what happened to Adolf Hitler, we never do find out what happened to the Adolf the monkey. His story was lost in the drama of the war.

Chapter 3

The older boys believed, as Antonina did, that war belonged to the world of adults, not children. (3.17)

This isn't really a loss-of-innocence story, but everyone's innocence is lost a bit during this long, difficult, violent war. Even the zoo animals don't escape unscathed.

War wasn't something Antonina wanted to think about, especially since her last experience of war stole both her parents, so she assured herself, as most Poles did, of their solid alliance with France, keeper of a powerful army, and Britain's sworn protection. (3.6)

Even without a personal loss associated with war, most people wouldn't be looking forward to a world war. But Antonina's personal loss makes her feel so desperate that she ends up feeling dependent on France for protection.

Chapter 4

Ever bomb creates a different scent, depending on where it hits, what it boils into aerosol and the nose detects slipping apart, as molecules mix with air and float free. (4.8)

The scent of bombs is an interesting detail that few others have noted. Ackerman later describes a bomb hitting a bakery, which sounds like the most delicious explosion ever. But that's another story.

In this Luftwaffe attack, a half-ton bomb destroyed the polar bears' mountain, smashing the walls, moats, and barriers and freeing the terrified animals. (4.29)

If you're the type of person who gets more upset when animals are hurt than when people are injured, this is a very sad part of the book. Okay, actually, it's an unpleasant part of the book, either way.

Chapter 5

On the rare occasions she ventured out, she entered a film-like war, with yellow smoke, pyramids of rubble, jagged stone cliffs where buildings once stood, wind-chased letters and medicine vials, wounded people, and dead horses with oddly angled legs. (5.12)

It feels surreal when Antonina goes outside. The war changes things so much that she feels like she's living in a war movie and not in the real world. And it's not even a fun war movie like Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Chapter 11

Antonina wondered if humans might use the same metaphor and picture the war days as "a sort of hibernation of the spirit, when ideas, knowledge, science, enthusiasm for work, understanding, and love—all accumulate inside, [where] nobody can take them from us." (11.1)

Although many people might wish they could have napped through the war, we're not sure if they'd share this idea that war is somehow healing in the long run. War does have a habit of squashing out art and science, after all.

Chapter 19

By associating any tune with danger, one never again hears it without adrenaline pounding as memory hits consciousness followed by a jolt of fear. She was right to wonder. As she said, "It's a terrific way to ruin great music." (19.17)

The songs played on the piano during the war become PTSD triggers for the residents of the villa after the war. It's like this: if a bomb went off every time you heard "Who Let the Dogs Out," then you'd feel pretty much exactly like you do whenever you hear "Who Let the Dogs Out" on a peaceful day. (Yes. We jest.)

Chapter 26

For people attuned to nature and the changing seasons, especially for farmers or animal-keepers, the war snagged time on barbed wire, forced them to live by mere chronicity, instead of real time, the time of wheat, wolf, and otter. (26.2)

War changes everyone's lives; it even changes the lives of the animals in this book. Who will think about the otters during the war? Who?

Chapter 31

Later, when she calmed down, she tried to diagnose the behavior of the SS soldiers—did they ever consider shooting them, or was it always a sick game of power and fear? […] "If so," she thought, "maybe their monstrous hearts contain some human feeling; and if that's so, then pure evil doesn't really exist." (31.44)

Antonina is always on the lookout for any little bits of goodness she can find during the war. It's sort of like picking out the M&Ms in a giant bowl of trail mix; happiness, like those M&Ms, can sometimes be hard to find.

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