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The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (Movie Tie-in) (Movie Tie-in Editions) by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story (Movie Tie-in)  (Movie Tie-in Editions) by Diane Ackerman

Author:Diane Ackerman [Ackerman, Diane]
Language: eng
Format: azw3
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Published: 2017-02-06T16:00:00+00:00


CHAPTER 22

WINTER, 1942

TIME USUALLY GLIDES WITH AN INCOHERENT PURR, BUT IN the villa it always quickened as curfew hour approached, when a kind of solstice took place and the sun stopped on the horizon of Antonina's day, with minutes moving as slow as mummers: one, a stretched pause, then another. Because anyone who didn't make it home by curfew risked being arrested, beaten, or killed, the hour acquired a pagan majesty. Everyone knew curfew horror stories like that of Magdalena's friend, painter and prose writer Bruno Schulz, gunned down by a spiteful Gestapo officer in Drohobycz, on November 19, 1942. Another Gestapo officer, Felix Landau, who admired Schulz's macabre, sometimes sadomasochistic paintings, had given him a pass out of the Ghetto to paint frescoes of fairy tales on his son's bedroom walls. One day, Landau killed a Jewish dentist under the protection of Günther, another officer, and when Günther spotted Schulz in the Aryan quarter after curfew, walking home with a loaf of bread under his arm, he shot him in retaliation.

If everyone arrived safely, Antonina celebrated another day without mishap, another night unmauled by monsters in the city's labyrinths. Curfew twilight tormented Rys, so she allowed him to stay up and await the homecomings; then he could fall asleep peacefully, his world intact. Years of war and curfews didn't alter that; he still anxiously awaited his father's return, indispensable as the moon's. Respecting this, Jan would go straight to Rys's room, remove his backpack, and sit for a few minutes to talk about the day, often producing a little treasure tucked in a pocket. One night his backpack bulged as if it had iron ribs.

"What do you have there, Papa?" Rys asked.

"A tiger," Jan said in mock fear.

"Don't joke, what's really in there?"

"I told you—a dangerous animal," his father said solemnly.

Antonina and Rys watched Jan remove a metal cage containing something furry, shaped like a dwarf guinea pig, mainly chestnut in color, with white cheeks and spots on its sides like a Sioux horse.

"If you'd like to have him, he's yours!" Jan said. "He's a son of the hamster couple I have at the Hygiene Institute. . .. But if I give him to you, you're not going to feed him to Balbina, are you?" Jan teased.

"Papa, why do you talk to me like I'm a little child?" Rys said, offended. He'd had all sorts of pets in the past, he argued, and hadn't done anything wicked with them.

"I'm very sorry," Jan said. "Take good care of him, keep a close eye on him, because he's the only survivor from a litter of seven. Unfortunately, the others were killed by their mother before I could stop her."

"What a horrible mother! Why do you keep her?"

"All hamsters have this cruel instinct, not only his mother," Jan explained. "A husband can kill his wife. Mothers chase their youngsters away from the burrow and don't care for them anymore. I didn't want to deprive the babies of their mother's milk too early, but unfortunately I miscalculated the best moment and was only able to save this one.



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