After her parents are shot in Russia when she is nine years old, Antonina goes to live with her well-educated aunt and eventually moves to Warsaw where she meets Jan at Warsaw's College of Agriculture. After marrying Jan, Antonina helps Jan as he accepts the zookeeper position at the Warsaw Zoo. She is a natural fit as a zookeeper's wife because of her interest in nature and her compassionate personality. She nurses ill animals, allows them to become members of the house, and encourages their son's love for all creatures. These attributes also allow her to become a significant asset in Jan's participation in the Resistance Movement. On several occasions, she saves the lives of her family members and escaped Jews with her confidence which witnesses reported "could disarm even the nest hostile." Quick-thinking and intuitive, Antonina deserves much of the credit for saving the lives of many of the guests who pass through the zoo and demonstrates an aplomb not found in many humans who are faced with similar compounding difficulties.
Ackerman paints a portrait of Jan through Antonina's reactions and relationship with him. Raised by a Polish engineer who sent him to a Jewish school, Jan is open-minded and logical. Much of his desire to be involved in the Polish Resistance stems from his many Jewish school friends and his finding risks "alluring" and "exciting." Each "mission" or act of sabotage on his part enables him to eliminate his fears and saves lives. At times, Ackerman's portrayal of Jan leads readers to believe that he put some of his thrill-seeking above his family's safety and feelings. He also comes across as rather condescending toward Antonina in some sections of the book. Ackerman points out, though, that Jan does give his wife credit for their harrowing escapes and that his matter-of-fact, pragmatic personality provides a sense of serenity to Antonina even when...
(The entire section is 798 words.)