Book to Screen: The Zookeeper’s Wife Adaptation

“Germany’s crime is the greatest crime that the world has ever known, because it is not on the scale of History: it is on the scale of Evolution.” – Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife

Which is better The Zookeeper's Wife adaptation of the book?

Where to even begin with The Zookeeper’s Wife adaptation and the book that inspired the story? Let’s start with this. I worked at the Philadelphia Zoo for over 8 years, so zoos are near and dear to my heart. I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long time. Though I usually shy away from WWII books I had to read The Zookeeper’s Wife before the movie came out.

The Zookeeper’s Wife book:

This story of the Warsaw Zoo’s director and his wife was heroic and inspiring. The fact that they were able to save 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto under the noses of the Nazi’s was impressive. The depiction of Warsaw before, during and after the war was fascinating. My favorite parts were how the animals incorporated into the story along the way.

With segments pulled from Antonina’s diary, it was a very well researched work of non-fiction. Here is the thing about non-fiction though, when written by  a person with only second hand knowledge of the happening, it can read more like a text book than a moving story. A first hand account (like Night by Eli Weisel) or even works of fiction that put you in the mind of the narrator, tend to be more moving, at least for me.

The Zookeeper’s Wife adaptation:

Despite this third person perspective, I went into The Zookeeper’s Wife adaptation with high hopes because Jessica Chastain is an incredible actress and the visual images in the trailer bring the story to life. The movie does not disappoint. It was better than the book in my opinion. I finished the book mere hours before the preview screening. The scenes weren’t surprising to me but they were still touching.

The movie took a lot of creative license when it came to the story however. I think it would have been better not to have read the book beforehand because the liberties they took were over the top. As one person in our viewing party mentioned, they wanted to make a central villain. They did that in the form of promoting Lutz Heck, played by Daniel Bruhl, from minor character to leading man. Strangely, they gave Bruhl top billing in the movie as well, as opposed to the actor who played Antonina’s husband. The scenes with Heck depicted Antonina’s character in a different light than the book. She was skittish and had trouble remaining calm unlike the real Antonina.

I enjoyed the movie and while lighter than say, Schindler’s List, it still depicts WWII in a moving manner. Chastain is fantastic in her role and I loved seeing the Zoo pre-war. I was horrified with what happens to the animals. Though the plot changes bothered me, I would still recommend it. 3 Stars for the book, 3.5 for the movie.

Does it bother anyone else when movies dramatize plots when the true story is actually more harrowing?

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

Book to Screen: The Zookeeper’s Wife AdaptationThe Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (Movie Tie-in) (Movie Tie-in Editions) by Diane Ackerman
Published by W. W. Norton & Company on February 7th 2017
Genres: History, Holocaust, Europe, Eastern, Military, World War II
Pages: 384
Buy on Amazon

The movie The Zookeeper’s Wife, based on the New York Times bestselling book, opens March 2017.

1939: the Germans have invaded Poland. The keepers of the Warsaw zoo, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, survive the bombardment of the city, only to see the occupiers ruthlessly kill many of their animals. The Nazis then carry off the prized specimens to Berlin for their program to create the “purest” breeds, much as they saw themselves as the purest human race. Opposed to all the Nazis represented, the Zabinskis risked their lives by hiding Jews in the now-empty animal cages, saving as many as three hundred people from extermination. Acclaimed, best-selling author Diane Ackerman, fascinated both by the Zabinskis’ courage and by Antonina’s incredible sensitivity to all living beings, tells a moving and dramatic story of the power of empathy and the strength of love.

A Focus Features release, it is directed by Niki Caro, written by Angela Workman.