Thanks to Focus Features, I was lucky enough to be able to ask Diane Ackerman, author of the nonfiction book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, and ask her a question about her awe-inspiring novel that was recently adapted into a movie!
The Zookeeper’s Wife Synopsis
In 1939 Poland, Antonina Żabiński (portrayed by two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh), have the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under his stewardship and her care. When their country is invaded by the Nazis, Jan and Antonina are—and forced to report to the Reich’s newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). To fight back on their own terms, the Żabińskis covertly begin working with the Resistance—and put into action plans to save lives out of what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and even her children at great risk.
INTERVIEW WITH DIANE ACKERMAN
Q: I never heard about the story before I read your novel. Was it hard to collect information on this couples life and the Jewish people who stayed up their houses and the struggles that they went through?
Diane Ackerman: Well, first of all, it’s not a novel. I didn’t make anything up. It’s–, I hope it reads like fiction but whenever I’m quoting somebody in the book, and the movie stays very close to the book, I’m, I mean, whenever somebody is speaking I’m quoting from diaries, from interviews, from accounts and so on. So, that was part of the research and I love learning. It was fascinating just piecing together one fragment after another and building a mosaic.
I really found myself researching this book in layers. I would learn about the history of World War II and Poland. I would learn about the culture, the music, the inventions of the era, what was happening with the Nazis and their paradoxical relationship with nature and then the personal life of Antonina. All of these things required reading in different directions.
But one door kept opening up to another one. And in that sense, it was a book that was just meant to be. I came upon the story really accidentally through the animals. But Antonina, when she wrote about the animals and adopting orphan animals and raising them inside of her zoo house went on to talk about how she was also a caregiver for endangered people. And that really opened my eyes to what was happening and to the world of the rescuers.
Diane Ackerman has been the finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in addition to many other awards and recognitions for her work, which include the bestsellers The Zookeeper’s Wife and A Natural History of the Senses.
The Zookeeper’s Wife, a little known true story of WWII, became a New York Times bestseller, and received the Orion Book Award, which honored it as, “a groundbreaking work of nonfiction.” A movie of The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl, releases in theaters March 31st, 2017 from Focus Features.
She lives with her husband Paul West in Ithaca, New York.