The Zookeeper’s Wife

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“I don’t understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.” 

This is the only book of Diane Ackerman’s that I’ve ever read, and I’ll readily admit I only even heard of it because of the movie of the same title. I’m so glad she wrote this, so we can all be amazed and inspired by how these heroes cleverly outsmart and bravely overcome a powerful evil, saving hundreds of innocents from its madness.

Diane Ackerman
Diane Ackerman

It’s the true story of Antonina and her husband Jan Zabinski, who kept a zoo in Warsaw, Poland… They were real, and so- imperfect people who knew how to be bigger than their flaws. This allowed them to see beyond their own troubles and take giant steps over their fears in order to rescue others in far worse danger. I love it.

Antonina was the kind of animal lover who brought up ‘wild’ animals alongside her child in their home, including lynx, badger, and even hyena pups. She cared for them tenderly and took their ways and needs in stride in an incredible way and to an incredible degree.

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Antonina

“Why was it, she asked herself, that ‘animals can sometimes subdue their predatory ways in only a few months, while humans, despite centuries of refinement, can quickly grow more savage than any beast.”

Early in World War 2, when the Germans bombed Warsaw, many of the zoo’s animals and enclosures were destroyed. But the Nazis’ insane obsession with a master race extended beyond humans, and the Warsaw zoo had some valuable animals in its captive breeding program, which the Nazis prized enough to try and exploit as a resource.

In the most horrible irony, while they were capturing millions of Jewish (and other marginalized) people and sending them in cattle cars to concentration camps where they were treated as sub-humans, the Nazis were going to great lengths to recreate strong, ancient, ‘pure’ animal races.

Jan and Antonina decided to take friends into their home to provide them with a safe hiding place. But that wasn’t enough.

“Suffering took hold of me like a magic spell abolishing all differences between friends and strangers.”

Eventually, they were secretly bringing hundreds of Jewish people from the ghetto into their zoo and hiding them in empty animal cages.

The Zabinskis empathy and humanity in a time and place overshadowed by inhumanity and cruelty makes for a terrible contrast, highlighting their heroism.

“We feel what we see, we experience others as self.”

The research that led to the writing of this book is astounding, and the story that unfolds from the pages of history is breathtaking.

It throws down the gauntlet; how many of us are willing to endure even a small inconvenience to stand up for someone who’s being made to suffer for their ethnicity or their religion?

Have you read this book?

What other stories of heroism do you love? 

I’m sure I’ll be writing about other ones as time goes by…

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

ps: I hope you’ll leave me a comment, follow, and share my blog! 

 

 

The Care And Management Of Lies

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~C.S. Lewis

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Perusing the library shelves, judging books by their covers; I suspect many of us indulge in this delicious pursuit. But this isn’t always the most reliable method for laying my hands on a book I’ll hardly be able to put down. Still, libraries are one of my favourite places to meander, and it’s always worth a try.

This is exactly how I first discovered this week’s author, Jacqueline Winspear. I was uncommonly lucky that day; I happened to pick up the first book in her well-researched historical mystery series (Maisie Dobbs)! Suffice it to say, I now pounce upon each new instalment with fervent energy and devour it so quickly I only wish it were longer.

This book, however, is her heartrending standalone novel. In this sense, I could almost compare it to Alexander McCall Smith’s  La’s Orchestra Saves The World (https://leahsletters.blog/2019/03/02/las-orchestra-saves-the-world/) except that it’s set during the first, rather than the second World War.

“What is certain, is that war will not leave us as it found us.”                                          ~Woman At Home, February 1915

Dorothea and Kezia are old schoolmates, who (not without some bitterness) become sisters-in-law. While one woman focuses on her career in the city and the fight for women’s rights, the other struggles to learn the trade of being a farmer’s wife.

It still takes my breath away to sense the sickening numbers of loved ones who left for the war and never came back. I can’t comprehend what it would be like to carry on, intimately faced with such widespread grief.

I was immediately drawn into the keenly felt nuances of long-standing women’s friendship, complicated by the upheaval of war. I wonder how many of us today can even relate with the brave and selfless urge to persistently write cheerful lies to the battlefront.

This story really made me think. A lot. And wonder.

Ethical questions are served here, and pushed around like overcooked vegetables on a child’s plate…

 

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Women’s issues are at the forefront of social awareness for a lot of us today. Just over 100 years ago, things were very different, or were they?

Of course the historical perspective is compelling and the farm setting enchanting, but the very different ways these two women face down their enemy- war- is what makes this a book not to be missed.

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What behind-the-scenes ‘battles’ have you read about?

And I’d love to hear what you think of the questions raised in this conundrum of a novel…

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

The Colours of All the Cattle

“Life happens, she thought; whatever we do, life just happens.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Colours of all the Cattle

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And… he’s done it again! One of my favourite living authors, Alexander McCall Smith has conjured up yet another Precious Ramotswe story. I’m delighted every time a new novel in this series comes out, and I’ve never been even remotely close to disappointment after reading one. How does he do it? I wonder… How does a man in Scotland write so convincingly about a woman in Botswana!? Am I the only one who has to tell myself (time and again) that if I were to take a trip to Gabarone, I would be faced with the cruel reality that no such business exists as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

This morning I was reading in Carol Shields’ Startle and Illuminate, a book on writing. I came across this comment, which is absolutely true of this series:

“… radical regionalism often produces a universal response.”

I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa, ever since I first saw the sunrise in Disney’s Lion King as an idealistic 16 year-old. Still, I am not the only one for whom McCall Smith has put Botswana on the map. Apart from that, it’s delicious to feel so immersed in a far-off place; the culture is palpable in these lovely books.

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Gabarone, beloved (if fictional) home of beloved (if fictional) Mma Ramotswe

Now consider another piece of Carol Shields’ advice, this one on appropriation of voice; we must be sure to convey others’ experiences with authenticity and respect.

This, I am convinced, is the key to Alexander McCall Smith’s brilliantly successful star character, Precious Ramotswe.

Charming as these novels are, the reason I keep coming back for more is not just for the  light humour, the little mysteries, or the trip to exotic Africa; but because what’s written in them matters. It simply does. The kind of ethics that just make good sense, which are woven like a golden thread throughout, catching the light occasionally, but never detracting attention from the people and their stories. That’s the magnet for me.

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If Precious were a tree, she would be this one.

“But please be careful—and never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

Spoken with her unfailing kindness, and accompanied by generous action, who could resist such wise counsel?

Which books do you return to for renewed perspective?

Thank you for reading with me 🙂

 Leah 🙂

 

The Happiness Passport

“Happiness is a mindset for your journey, not the result of your destination.” ~Shawn Achor

I’m obsessed with a few things; happiness naturally being one of them, because… who doesn’t want to be happy? According to the wise and witty Jane Austen, no one;

“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”

Handily, I also find that I have an insatiable appetite for learning. And people, and places. So you can imagine the relish with which I devoured this gorgeous book!

Clearly, no one place or culture has a monopoly on happiness. It’s absolutely fascinating to discover elements of contentment and joie-de-vivre tucked away in all parts of the world.

When I started school, my mom was part of a carpool; parents from nearby farms took turns driving each other’s children to school along with their own. Two of the families in our carpool were from India, and our mother wasted no time learning to cook a delicious Indian vegetarian curry and roti from one of these women. This recipe became one of our family favourites, and to this day we love to make it; only a couple weeks ago our adult son asked me for the recipe so he can make it with/for his lovely wife!

I’m grateful to my mom for this introduction to cultural diversity appreciation!

I’m convinced that we can learn something from everyone we meet. And from people we don’t meet, who find other ways to share their experiences and perspectives with us. For example, because of Megan C. Hayes, PhD., we now have at our fingertips such simple and sweet word/concepts as ‘cwtch’ (a Welsh term for a cozy cuddle), ‘ubuntu’ (Nguni Buntu for the common bond of unanimity between all people), ‘melmastia’ (a Pashto expression for unconditional hospitality and profound respect for guests), and one of my personal favourites -surely coined by someone who enjoys babies and little people as much as I do- ‘gigil’ (Tagalog for an overwhelming feeling, often in the context of wanting to pinch a cute or cherished baby)!!!

You might want to check out Megan Hayes’ program for writing oneself happy!

Positive Journal

What happiness tips have you gleaned from other languages, cultures, or places?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

The Golden Rule

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“DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU.”

Like most of us, I’ve been familiar with this ethic of empathy for as long as I can remember. Because I am a Christian, I learned it from my parents as well as in church.

What I didn’t realize before reading this artfully illustrated book is that the golden rule is found in all the world’s religions… According to author Ilene Cooper,

“Christianity says: You should love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Judaism says: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow humans.

Islam says: Hurt no one that no one may hurt you.

Hinduism says: This is the sum of duty: to do nothing to others which would cause them pain.

Buddhism says: Do not do to others what would hurt you.

The Shawnee Tribe says: Do not kill or injure your neighbour, for it is not he or she that you injure; you injure yourself.”

This book presents a simple tale of a young boy learning about this universal element of humanity in a thought-provoking conversation with his grandfather…

The little lad likes that the Golden Rule is the same for children and adults. I like how his grandpa answers his how-to query;

“You begin by using your imagination.”

Sometimes it’s too easy for me to interact with (especially my family) just a little thoughtlessly. When I take a little moment to consider first, I’m far more likely to treat the people I love the most in the way I would like to be treated; with kindness and respect.

A couple days ago a man stepped aside, holding the door open for me as I was leaving the post office. He was on his way in, and happened to have his hand on the door handle before I did. It was easy and natural for me then to hold it open for him as he took his turn passing through. It was such a simple gesture, but it brightened my day.

How has someone touched your life with gold by following this simple rule?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂