We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee
From the jacket: “In the market for a house and the adventure of a lifetime, Benjamin Mee decided to uproot his family and move them to an unlikely new home: a dilapidated zoo in the English countryside, complete with over 200 exotic animals. Mee, who specializes in animal behavior, had a dream to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. Naturally, friends and colleagues thought he was crazy.”
My take: It sounds like an ideal story, doesn’t it? An English guy, family in tow, buys a rundown private zoo with the intent of restoring it to its former glory and turning it into a reseeding ground for endangered animals. Add in family drama, personnel issues, escaped deadly creatures, a health crisis, and two small children and it’s what movie dreams are made of. Which may be why you recognize the title of the memoir I read last month — it was a movie that came out at the end of last year.
The book, which the film’s release brought back to my mind, has a lot of potential. There’s a lot of good material in it — from Ben’s start in the French countryside, where he and his wife Katherine are raising their two young kids — all the way through the Mee family buying a dilapidated zoo from an eccentric old British man in Dartmoor and renovating it. You learn a lot about a lot of different things — from cutting edge cancer research to what an ordeal it is to secure loans and financing to bring such a business back from ruin. You get glimpses of the journalist Mee must have been before he gave up freelancing for a little piece of Dartmoor and several tigers.
But the book is weighed down by inadequate editing. Characters are sometimes reintroduced within pages, while others reappear after hundreds of pages away with nary a reminder about their purpose in the story. There’s a lack of focus, as one might expect in a sprawling family drama that involves a tapir and peacocks, but it’s nothing I feel like a good red pen from a bit of distance might not have been able to fix.
So, I guess I’d say if you think the subject matter interests you, it’s worth seeking the book out. But I didn’t connect with it in the way I expected to.