Benjamin Mee's We Bought a Zoo oscillates between being a hilarious tale of a family managing a shabby zoo in Southwest England and a truly heart-wrenching story about love and personal loss.
The Mees decide to pool their assets to buy Dartmoor Zoological Park (formerly Dartmoor Wildlife Park) on what seems to be an earnest whim. While lawyers and bankers prattle over the fine print, Benjamin has another very serious problem to deal with: his wife, Katherine, is dying of brain cancer.
Narrator Gildart Jackson displays a range well-suited to Mee's own voice. He makes sure that the funny parts stay funny, while also delving fully into the sadder aspects of the story. When Mee is tasked with moving a deadly big cat from an enclosure to a nearby van, Jackson imbues his performance with equal parts anxiety and absurdity. Contrarily, there is nothing but real pain in his voice when he recounts an intense period of Katherine's rapidly deteriorating health.
We Bought a Zoo is less about the animals than the people involved with Benjamin Mee's purchase and the upkeep of this life-altering family business. There are the previous owners, who are quirky and unmovable in their strange demands. There's also a parade of zoological professionals (curators, veterinarians, handymen, and keepers) woven seamlessly into the fabric of the tale. Mee, his children, his wife, and his extended family provide balance to a saga that has more than its share of madcap moments, mainly provided by the crafty escapes of numerous dangerous animals.
Most of all, the book is a reminder that hope can be found in unlikely places - in this case, a rundown zoo. By opening day, it's obvious that it was in fact worth all the trouble. Gina Pensiero
Already a BBC documentary miniseries and excerpted in the Guardian, We Bought a Zoo is a profoundly moving portrait of an unforgettable family living in the most extraordinary circumstances. This touching memoir is set to be a major motion picture starring Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon, in theaters December 23, 2011.
When Benjamin Mee decided to uproot his family and move them to an unlikely new home—a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside where over two hundred exotic animals would be their new neighbors—his friends and colleagues thought he was crazy. But Mee’s dream was to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. So in 2006, Mee, his wife and two children, his brother, and his 76-year-old mother moved into the Dartmoor Wildlife Park. Their extended family now included: Solomon, an African lion and scourge of the local golf course; Zak, the rickety alpha wolf, a broadly benevolent dictator clinging to power; Ronnie, a Brazilian tapir, easily capable of killing a man but hopelessly soppy; and Sovereign, a jaguar and would-be ninja, who devised a long-term escape plan and implemented it.
The grand reopening was scheduled for spring, but there was much work to be done and none of it easy for these novice zookeepers. Tigers broke loose, money was tight, the staff grew skeptical, and family tensions reached a boiling point.
Then tragedy struck. Katherine Mee, Benjamin’s wife, had a recurrence of a brain tumor, forcing Benjamin and his two young children to face the heartbreak of illness and the devastating loss of a wife and mother. Inspired by the memory of Katherine and the healing power of the incredible family of animals they had grown to love, Benjamin and his kids resolved to move forward. Today the zoo is a thriving success.
©2008 Benjamin Mee (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Charming throughout, and touching as well.” (New York Daily News)
I enjoyed the movie but thought some of it a bit hard to swallow as my dad is a zoologist. So I was fascinated but this careful account of what really happened. Mr. Mee leaves nothing out and frequently repeats the important points in case you missed them. He is an experienced writer and writes about the things closest to his heart: his family and his zoo. Of course, I checked on line and found out the zoo is still going strong.
People like to say things like "follow your dreams" and "put your money where your heart is" and it sounds easy. This is the story of a man who didn't know what his dream was but was ready to recognize it when it came along. It is also the story of how very risky and expensive following your heart can be and how much hard work! Fortunately for a lot of people and animals, Mr. Mee stuck with it.
I'm inspired by this story. I appreciate hard work. I particularly like the ending. He says it is a lot of hard work, but it doesn't feel like hard work. It feels like vacation. I think that might serve as an excellent definition of a true dream.
The narrator is quite good. So good, you forget he's there and just live in the story.
As I listen to this I become increasingly aware, this story isn't really intended for kids. A chapter all about gay animals, not a huge deal but was kind of unexpected. A lot of the story is about the wife's cancer and treatment, as well.
A heart break of the loss of his wife and the healing power of animals. Not as PG a story as the movie. Much more grit, drama and pain. Was disappointed with the narrator. I felt he just read the book instead of told the story. I was wishing Matt Damon read it. But it is a British story. So get Jim Dale!
This was throughly enjoyable! The rials and tribulations of purchasing a zoo, is beyond the comprehension of most everyone and really, who stops and thinks about these kinds of things anyway?
Ben's knowledge of the animal kingdom has some interesting points about different animals along the way as well - thus adding to the uniqueness of the story. HIs observations of his young children and their observations are also quite poignant and add interesting parts to the story - only through the mouthes of babes.
Who knew that animals escaping in the zoo are a common occurrence? It's always so controlled when you visit them, so the behind the scenes stories are funny and not your every day dinner conversation.
I normally feel like if I read the novel, that I don't usually have any interest in seeing a movie but this one might be just as good to watch as it was to read - if they stick to the main story line.
Absolutely! This is the struggle of a family that deals with much more than the issues with rebuilding a complicated business.
I wish the book were longer. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a story concerning animal lovers, but also anyone who enjoys a realistic story about family matters surrounding love, death, and inspiration.
Feed your inner science geek and your spirit with this lovely autobiography. Benjamin Mee's voice is smart, gentle, self-deprecating, and witty. His in-depth accounts of animal behavior and care, zoo construction, terrific descriptions of place, and anecdotes about family and friends are interspersed with moments of depth and wisdom that brought me to tears-- for example, in describing the death of his wife.
I purchased this to listen to with my 12 yo son, who quickly proclaimed it "boring" (he's not the most patient pre-adolescent), and then found I had been drawn in enough by the first 20 minutes to continue to the end. I'm so glad I did.
I really loved this story as well as the narrator. Since seeing the movie advertised backing in 2011 it has been on my list to "read". I am happy I did because it looks like in the movie they changed a lot of the story. If you are looking for a heartwarming story I highly recommend this book.
The narration was almost painful.. I couldnt finish, I hate spending money on a book that is too boring to listen to. Only made it to 2nd or 3rd chapter and I couldnt listen any more.
A good story for listening while you're walking, etc. as there are no major plot twists or mysteries to have to keep up with. This is the real story - not the movie - and it takes place in England. I recommend this for a time when you just can't decide what you want - and you're not in the mood for more murder, mayhem, political intrigue.
Would have liked to get to know the characters more. More indepth on the children, interaction with the animals.
Narrators performance is great.
I would read a follow-up book - if he puts a little more "beef" in it.
I realize the author was giving us his real life "diary" of events and not making up sensational happenings.
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