The Zookeeper’s War is, amongst other things, a portrait of a marriage. What do you make of Vera and Axel’s relationship?
What is the significance of the zoo’s animals in the novel?
Historians disagree about the military effectiveness of the Allied bombing campaign against German cities, though some argue that it ultimately bred distaste for war in what was once a militaristic society. Given the human and, indeed, animal suffering involved, was the bombing in any sense justified?
Axel argues that it is essential for the zoo to accept forced labourers, and that in any case the Ostarbeiter are likely to be better off at the zoo than in some harsher workplace. Are he and Vera wrong to accept forced workers at the zoo?
Shortly after moving into the tenements, Axel claims to Vera that ‘Frau Ritter is the sort of person for whom we ought to have compassion’ (p.122). How morally culpable were those ordinary Germans who supported, or simply failed to resist, the Nazi regime? Is there such a thing as collective guilt?
How do you respond to Vera’s relationship with Martin Krypic?
Axel explains the failure of the plot to kill Hitler in the following way: ‘Because Hitler moved or didn’t. Because the air was too dry or too humid. Because there is no God; or if there is, because he’s blind, or sees so much further than us’ [p.181]. What meaning, if any, do you ascribe to Hitler’s escape from assassination?
When Flavia is arrested, a terrified Vera tries to dissuade Axel from seeking her release. How might you have responded in these circumstances?
How do you feel about the novel’s ending?
What kinds of futures to you imagine for Axel, Vera, Flavia and Krypic?