Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Title: We Bought A Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Changed Their Lives Forever
Author: Benjamin Mee
Publication Date: September 2008
Publisher: Weinstein Books
Source: Library
Non-Fiction, Memior

I wanted to read this book after seeing the commercials for the movie We Bought A Zoo that came out in December. I never know how books will translate onto the big screen and how many significant changes the movie will make from the book. So often the book is better because a movie has a limited amount of time to tell the entire story and some of the details are usually forced out along the way. Although I still haven't seen the movie yet, I'm not sure this will be the case with We Bought A Zoo.

After reading BermudaOnion's review of We Bought A Zoo, I will admit that I was rethinking my strategy and considering going straight to the movie. But since I already had placed the book on hold through my library, I decided I would start it and then if I wasn't enjoying it I had already given myself permission to not finish the story. I completely agree with her assessment that Mee writes what could be a very emotional story in a very clinical way. While I'm sure the business aspects of the transaction were his primary focus and his background in journalism may have prompted a factual recitation, it seems he completely missed the human interest angle on this story.

Essentially, Mee moves his family from the idyllic life they have created for themselves in southern France to a completely run-down zoo in the English countryside. While he negotiates the red tape involved with purchasing the zoo, his wife Katherine faces a life-threatening brain tumor. The move also involves their two young children, Mee's brother Duncan, and Mee's mother. It was easy to forget about Katherine, the children, and Mee's mother as they were so seldom mentioned. Katherine and the children seem to have their place in the story before the move to the zoo and then only show up rarely. Mee's mother finally gets a place closer to the end of the story as he talks about how she becomes involved with the business after Katherine's death. These are the people I really wanted to hear about - how did this move affect them?

Instead we read about the zoo's dire financial situation, the staff squabbles, and the physical repairs that need to be completed. Mee can't seem to decide if his zoo keepers are competent and willing to work together to bring the zoo back as a viable business or if they resent the changes being implemented and the new staff being brought on board. While I'm sure there were moments of each, Mee seems to paint a drastically different overall picture at various points in the book.

I know that the movie changes the location of events from England to southern California and I am very curious to see what other changes they have made. I'm hoping that the movie will focus more on the people living out this story and will have more of an emotional impact than the book. While I won't be rushing out to see the movie right away (for various reasons, not the least of which is how expensive movies have gotten with ticket prices plus the cost of childcare), We Bought A Zoo is definitely on my radar for when it is available on DVD or streaming.



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