It is about the Polish family that ran the Warsaw Zoo in the 1940s and the impact WWII had on their lives. It was fascinating. Diane Ackerman describes the relationships of the Zabinski family including the animals in their care, which they treated as pets. Ackerman delves into the personal life and journals of Antonina (the main character), illustrating a deep connection to her husband and young son, the significance of her menagerie and how adept animal-handling skills aid her in difficult circumstances.
The book outlines just how far reaching Nazi purism was: I learned that the "ideal" Aryan race included animals as well. Because of Nazi officials' obsession with regaining a more perfect natural world (as they saw it), their desire for purebred horses and bison native to the area, and the political importance of the Zoos location and resources, the Zabinksis continue to live at the zoo as long as possible and see the drastic changes in Poland during German occupation.
The combination of historical detail, vibrant narrative, and quotes from personal accounts make this story intriguing. Ackerman appeals to all the senses in her writing and describes an era of chaos and terror with delicacy.