A Natural History of Terrible Things

From The Washington Post:

Book A lovely story about the Holocaust might seem like a grotesque oxymoron. But in The Zookeeper’s Wife, Diane Ackerman proves otherwise. Here is a true story — of human empathy and its opposite — that is simultaneously grave and exuberant, wise and playful. Ackerman has a wonderful tale to tell, and she tells it wonderfully.

The book begins in the mid-1930s, when a young couple, Antonina and Jan Zabinski, were the directors of Warsaw’s elaborate, fecund zoo, which housed its animals not just in cages but in habitats meant to recreate their native wetlands, deserts and woods. Antonina was a Russian-born Pole whose parents were killed by the Bolsheviks in the early days of the Russian Revolution. Jan was a rarity: a Polish Catholic whose father raised him as a staunch atheist in a working-class Jewish neighborhood. The Zabinski household was a sort of madcap bohemia, full of artists, intellectuals and a rotating assortment of non-human friends, including a lion kitten, a wolf cub, a chimpanzee, a “sluttish” cat named Balbina, a kissing rabbit named Wicek, and a paunchy muskrat who practiced an “exquisite” ritual of morning ablutions.

More here.