Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Zookeeper's War by Steven Contes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

"In Berlin‚ who can you trust?

A story of passion and sacrifice in a city battered by war ...

It is 1943 and each night in a bomb shelter beneath the Berlin Zoo an Australian woman‚ Vera‚ shelters with her German husband‚ Axel‚ the zoo′s director.

Together‚ they struggle to look after the animals through the air raids and food shortages. When the zoo′s staff is drafted into the army‚ forced labourers are sent in as replacements. At first‚ Vera finds the idea abhorrent‚ but gradually she realises that the new workers are the zoo′s only hope‚ and forms an unlikely bond with one of them.

This is a city where a foreign accent is a constant source of suspicion‚ where busybodies report the names of neighbours′ dinner guests to the Gestapo. As tensions mount in the closing days of the war‚ nothing‚ and no one‚ it seems‚ can be trusted.

The Zookeeper′s War is a powerful novel of a marriage‚ and of a city collapsing. It confronts not only the brutality of war but the possibility of heroism − and delivers an ending that is both shocking and deeply moving."

The zookeepers war is predominantly told from the point of view of Vera an Australian, living with her German husband in Berlin during WWII, who are Zookeepers of the Berlin Zoo.

This book was nominated for and won the Prime Ministers Award for 2008. This is a newly created Australian literary award and was not the reason I got the book but it was an unexpected bonus. However the book did not blow me away. I did not even get bleary eyed considering some of the subject matter. He did not really deal with any of the serious issues of WWII or the Zoo. This was more a story about Vera and Axel living their lives almost as if the war was not happening, if it was not for the WWII setting it could be a couple in any other period/war.

The writing style is very stylish and simple. I could easily imagine walking the streets of Berlin in 1945 or hiding in the bomb shelters as the British and Americans rained bombs over the city. The author had clearly done his homework in regards to the history aspect, which for me made the book interesting. However the issues did not really touch Axel or Vera, they happened to their friends. The Author for me failed to adequately the sense of fear, hate, distrust, terror, and sadness that other books on the subject have portrayed vividly. I picked this book up as I thought it would have a unique perspective of being told from the Zoo and an 'alien' living in Berlin during the War. I felt the author did not utilise these unique perspectives enough.

I never really got the sense of "knowing" the characters. The book was told from at least three perspectives Vera, and Axel as well as another character called Martin. I was not sure what Martin's perspective brought to the book and would have preferred Flavia's perspective to be shown. Reactions seemed skin deep and not normal for the period, Axel in particular did not react the way one would assume a man in his position would. He was a wounded veteran of WWI and had lost most of his life, and his father’s life, when the Zoo was bombed. For me he was just too calm no one in that situation would be as calm as he was. He only seemed to show real emotion right at the end of the book, without giving away any spoilers it is a little confronting what happens to Axel.

This was not a bad book it just failed to hit the mark for me on some levels. The book would be a good start for anyone who has not read WWII books previously, as it is not the emotional roller coaster that other books in the same field are. It gives the reader a good introduction to the war and how lives were affected. The ending may shock some more than others.

No comments:

Post a Comment