Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What Is It About A Zoo?

One of the key events in Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife is the 1941 Easter Sunday bombing of the Belgrade Zoo. As it happens, this event was also depicted in the 1995 award-winning film Underground directed by Emir Kusturica. Watch the opening sequence here. You can see from just this excerpt that it shares a certain sensibility with the novel, combining tragedy and humor, absurdity with pathos.  Here's an account of how Obreht visited the Syracuse Zoo when she found herself in need of inspiration. She explains in this interview with fellow novelist Jennifer Egan,


There is something jarring about seeing an animal out of place: there’s a universal feeling of awe when you see an animal, particularly an impressive animal, out of place.
The novel reminded me of some other war torn zoo-themed books: Diane Ackerman's true story of the Warsaw Zoo and the Polish resistance, The Zookeeper's Wife, and the graphic novel Pride of Baghdad, inspired by the destruction of the Baghdad Zoo during the Iraq War in 2003. Poet Brian Turner also meditated on the strange animals roaming about the city in "The Baghdad Zoo" (from his collection Here, Bullet). Apparently, there's even an award-winning play that makes use of the incident, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Last but not least, AIUSA's Human Rights Now blog notes that the website that accompanies Sacha Baron Cohen's latest satire The Dictator, highlights tourism attractions for the fictional Republic of Wadiya's zoo, including endangered species such as "pandas, white tigers, and Amnesty International officials." Hah!  Have I missed any good displaced animal stories? What is it about a zoo?
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