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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.
He took an interesting story and made it irresistible. A lot went on in the re-opening of this zoo, and it could have been very dry reading. The author did a good job of interspersing the details with bits of humor, drama, and, yes, sadness, while the narrator did a fabulous job bringing the story to life. I wouldn't mind listening to it again, and I hope the author does a sequel, because I'd love to hear more about the zoo now that it has been open for a few years and the changes that have been made. I'll definitely be looking for other books the narrator has done the reading for, too.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
Cute story, I would have prefered more about the relationships and less banking,
financial and legal data. The animal stories were great and the people were inspirational.
Quite an impressive undertaking. Interesting reading.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
Recommended for an adult audience. Although I read the reviews before I downloaded this story for a family road trip, nothing lead me to expect the string of F-bombs and other curse words in the latter half of the story. We had to have a long conversation with our young sons about curse words the day we listened to that part of the story; I considered turning it off, but we elected to finish the story. We did feel that the treatment of the author's wife's illness was well done and explores grief openly.
Did Gildart Jackson do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?
If this book were a movie would you go see it?
Apparently it is a movie, and as per usual Hollywood treatment, the movie is very different from the book.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Loved this book! A very enjoyable listen. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie but it did not adequately portray the absolutely insurmountable challenges and amazingly colorful characters that made up the actual story. I found myself laughing so hard I was crying through parts of it. I highly recommend it.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
Would you be willing to try another book from Benjamin Mee? Why or why not?
It would depend on the story involved.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Gildart Jackson?
Could you see We Bought a Zoo being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?
Well since it was, yes.
Any additional comments?
Because I had seen the movie first, I had an expectation that was probably unrealistic. While I appreciated the truthfulness that was told, it was not as entertaining as the movie made it seem. The end of the book became hard to deal with for me as the language became objectionable. I would still not mind visiting this little zoo, however, if I was ever in that country.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I have never written a review before but felt compelled to now. I have been listening to Audible books and books on tape for over 12 years and this is the worst narration I can remember. I think this is a great story, but Jackson's reading falls short. I felt it was stilted with no emotions. I even checked to see if the author was the reader. I would love to hear the story read by someone else.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
Written as if a project plan. Dry and boring. I am an animal lover, and the concept was appealing, given the additional attractiveness of settings in France and England. I gave up about half way through. Perhaps others who enjoy those same things will persevere. I could not.
Has We Bought a Zoo turned you off from other books in this genre?
Actually, yes! I was steadily listening to books, one after the other. This one was not completed, and it has been several months before my return.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Weariness! I tried hard to get through it, but the story was written as a documentary, a project plan --- "next we did this". Not at all compelling.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about We Bought a Zoo? What did you like least?
I didn't know it was a true story. That was pleasing. It was well written and flowed nicely. It was interesting. I have not seen the movie so can't compare, but I don't think the movie had the sadness of his wife's sickness. Not sure, though. I listen to several books per week driving and doing chores. I enjoy a good reader. I feel they make the story. I did not like the reader of this book. I found the voice flat and unimaginative. He did not do female voices well. I never forgot that a male was reading the book. I actually thought it was read by the author (seldom a good idea-most should stick to writing and leave to reading to the pros), until I looked to see. I would probably listen again.
Who was your favorite character and why?
The wife. I liked her positive attitude and tenacity. And the mother. She was interesting. I would have liked to hear more about her. She was very generous and trusting with her life's savings.
What aspect of Gildart Jackson???s performance would you have changed?
I would have found someone else. I did not like his performance at all.
Do you think We Bought a Zoo needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
If someone else was the reader, I would listen to a follow up. Otherwise-no. I would like to hear more about the family.
Any additional comments?
Get a new reader.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
I super enjoyed the movie and books are usually better, right? Not this time. I just couldn't find the magic. Perhaps if you watched the BBC series "Ben's Zoo," and wanted to know the in depth details behind the scenes... this would be perfect. It feels like it was written in a series of chapters independent of each other, for you jump around... several times I checked to see if I had accidently fast forwarded. I was left with gaps I wondered about and information he repeated multiple times. Ben writes columns and articles and it feels like he used the same practices in writing the book, piecemeal rather than tackling the whole thing together. Its not a bad book, I enjoyed his humor and it was a change of pace, just isn't as brilliant as the stars and movie would lead you to believe. G rated book but kids would get bored with the financial and family details.
4 of 7 people found this review helpful
this book was one that made me smile often and laugh out loud many times. a gentle and engaging look at life lived creatively and fully. Well worth the time invested!