The Midnight Zoo
- Walker Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 04 April 2013
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A strange and heartbreaking tale, <i>The Midnight Zoo</i> is the latest literary gem from author Sonya Hartnett and features lovely illustrations by Andrea Offermann. Two young boys, Andrej and his younger brother Tomas, are walking through a war-ravaged countryside, scrounging up whatever they can to survive while they protect the precious bundle they carry -- their baby sister Wilma. As gypsies (known as <i>Rom</i>), the boys are used to the life of wandering, where every day brings them to a new place, but taking care of themselves is a very new responsibility and obviously has its roots in tragedy. While wandering through a destroyed and empty town, the boys stumble upon a very small zoo, whose animals are still captive in their cages despite the near-total annihilation of the human dwellings. The zoo contains a wolf, an eagle, a monkey, a bear, a lioness, a seal, a chamois, and a llama. Shortly after identifying the animals that surround them, airplanes appear and a sudden air raid threatens all their lives. When Andrej and Tomas wake up, the animals are speaking to them. Nearly everyone has a turn at telling his or her own stories of captivity, including the boys, but when everyone has been displaced and there's no way to return them to the lives they should have been living, what can possibly be done to go on?Yes, the main human characters are children; yes, it's relatively short; yes, there's a fable-like quality to the story; but does this mean this book could only be classified as exclusively (or even primarily) a book for children? Most certainly not! As I read, I found myself thinking of this as an introduction to magical realism more than a story which depicted the magic of a children's book. Of course, magical realism is certainly not a concept that can exclusively be applied to books for adults, but somehow I feel like this novel merits the acknowledgement of providing a beautiful and quiet illustration of the concept for those (children or otherwise) who might otherwise only have encountered fantasy depictions of magic. It subtly creeps in, begging the question of what is real and asking the reader to suspend his or her disbelief for the sake of coming to a deeper understanding of what it means for any creature to be safe and free. Children and adults would have similar reactions to the emotions brought forth in this novel of war, tragedy, and flickering hope. Technically, the setting for this tale is obviously World War II, but after reading it, one feels as though this could be a theme that applies to any war which ravages countries and lives, putting innocents in danger. It is a novel to be read with a heart that aches for the world and its inhabitants... and at the core of all that is the desire to shape one's own destiny and the longing for freedom from many different kinds of cages.I imagine that <i>The Midnight Zoo</i> is destined to be taught in classrooms or suggested for book reports. I can even see the prompted questions now, revolving around the meaning of freedom, the logic behind a story told largely by talking animals, the lack of explicit closure and open-endedness of the final chapter, and the possibility that the children and animals actually died in the air raid. It is a novel that easily yields itself up to questions because that is its goal -- to provoke the reader in to asking questions. I would urge adults to treat this as a novella and enjoy the multitude of topics which will undoubtedly now stir in their minds... topics which might not otherwise have large purchase, even for sensitive souls: the animal nature of human beings; the questionable justification for wild animals being tamed; the definition of a cage; the repercussions of even our well-intentioned actions on the lives of those around us, human or otherwise. <i>The Midnight Zoo</i> will stay with you long after you finish reading and reflection upon the story and its themes only makes it feel richer. I'm delighted to have been exposed to this beautiful novel and I look forward to discovering Sonya Hartnett's other work.
A beautifully written, moving and thoughtful fable about war, hope and freedom. Hartnett is one of the most gifted writers of children's and young adult fiction and this wonderful novel is another example of her remarkable talent.
This book is not a children's book, maybe a young adult could handle it, but many of the themes are brutally realistic. It centers around three gypsy children whose parents are murdered by german soldiers. Only Uncle Marin and a child of the tribe are killed in the narrative, but it is obvious that the others are marched off to dig their own graves and then get in them. Three children were in the woods when the soldiers came, Andrej, his brother Tomas and their baby sister Wilma. Because of this they survive. They run and are refugees along with a great many other people. Eventually they make their way to an abandoned zoo in a bombed out city. The animals are locked in their cages, starving. The animals talk to the children and the children give them all the food they have. It is a very moving story in which the stories of some of the animals are shared. The times are absolutely desperate and all of the animals and children are victims of the war, as are most of the people alive and dead around them. It is heart wrenching but has much to say about grace under pressure. An admirable book, but I would not have anyone under 14 read it.
I really enjoyed this. I thought it might be too short, but it turned out to be okay. It follows three gypsy kids on the run during WW2. It's very interesting to see the two boys take on the role of their parents and provide for their younger sister- despite how annoying they find her. Andrej and Tomas end up in a zoo in a ruined village, and try to piece together what's happening to the world. It was different than anything I've read before, and a very unique tale. I enjoyed it a lot, but I found the ending a bit flimsy.
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