Combined Reviews: The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

zookeepers_war.jpg Reviews of The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte
Fourth Estate

[This novel won the 2008 Prime Minister's Literary Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the 2008 Commonwealth Writer's Prize Year: Best First Novel - South East Asia & South Pacific region.]

John Bailey in "The Age": "It's a ripper premise -- British bombs laying waste to wartime Berlin, as the husband and wife in charge of the city's zoo fight to save their animal charges from decimation and starvation. This is the landscape of Australian Steven Conte's debut novel and it's one littered with literary craters. Luckily, it's built on foundations strong enough to survive its weaknesses...Conte's prose style is unhurried and unforced, rarely indulging in acrobatic feats and only occasionally hinting at the journeyman status sometimes evident in first novels."
Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "Conte has hit on the unusual, intriguing effect created by setting war fiction among caged beasts. This imbues it with an awful urgency, and a poignant, unexpected perspective. Wastelands strewn with the corpses of big cats, alien aquatic creatures blasted out of their fragile prisons, animals left above ground to take the full force of bombing raids while their owners drop into burrows of safety: all this tilts the story away from the usual anthropocentric narrative focus...Beyond its tangential setting in a menagerie, the appeal and success of this novel probably hinges on Conte's vigorous evocation of wartime Berlin. His emotional explorations are often superficial and erratic, but his hammer and nail construction of Berlin in 1944 and his plausible evocation of his characters' predicaments are lively."
Karen Lamb in "The Australian Literary Review", as part of a review of 4 first novels: "If Anatomy of Wings [by Karen Foxlee] suggests how lying of a certain kind can lead to death, then Steven Conte's The Zookeeper's War reminds us that history demonstrates that telling the truth can be even more treacherous. The novel is set in wartime Berlin, a time not kind to secrets or truth, when the Gestapo decided whether you were a lie or a life...Interestingly, the simple expositon of ruthlessness in a novel set in this period does not necessarily offer much to readers. In Conte's story, the intrigue lies at the human level of choices made and the exercise of individual will. The people who fascinate us are those who didn't, or wouldn't tell on others...While this provides an effective metaphorical framework for the inhumanity in the world of humans, the strength of The Zookeeper's War is Conte's meticulous and nuanced observation of character and conduct."

Further details about the novel can be found at the author's website.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on September 18, 2008 9:50 PM.

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