25 May 2012
I saw the film "We bought a Zoo" before I read the book. As soon as I'd watched the film I ordered the book (well later that evening as I actually saw it as an in-flight movie) and I knew straight away that I wanted to read the true story rather than the Hollywood version. I thought the film was great, but it was very American. As the true story was based on a zoo in England then I knew the story must have been changed from the original, although didn't realise how much until I got the book.
This is a review of the original book, not the book with the film tie-in which is also available.
The book is an autobiographical story of Benjamin Mee who bought a run down failing zoo in Plymouth England and, against all odds, with a lot of hard work and determination managed to turn it around to a successful zoo once more. It's also about his wife Katherine who was terminally ill and who did not get to see the zoo reopen.
At first I thought what could really be so exciting about a story about a zoo that would be worthy of a film starring Matt Damon. I soon found out watching the film, but I saw a very different story in the book. Whilst the film may have been inspired by the true story there are more differences than there are similarities. It is reminiscent of Maria Von Trap who said about the Sound of Music "it's a nice story, but it's not my story". I think that the true story is even better than the film, although I appreciate it would still have needed a lot of changes to make it appeal to a cinema audience.
Once I started reading I couldn't put the book down. It's a very well written story that really draws the reader in, covering his wife's illness, the challenge in buying the zoo and the even bigger challenge of getting up ready for inspection before the zoo could re-open to the public. A story that it seams only just managed to get to the point where the zoo could open, and even then it needed to make enough money in the first year to pay the bills and keep it viable.
I've been interested in Zoos every since my children were little, and I've visited a number of zoos and wildlife parks. I think they are a good way for children to appreciate some of the great things of nature and gain an appreciation of the environment issues around the protection of some of the worlds most endangered species, so I found the parts of the book on the conservation aspects of zoos interesting. The bit about escapes "surprisingly common" made for an exciting read and with lots of emotion about his wife
A truly inspiring story. The film is great, but the true story is even better. It's earned it's place as one of my favourite books.
To finish here's a quote from the book that sums it up even better:
"I think it's a quintessentially English story. Completely mad and eccentric but with a very wide appeal" MD of Tigress ProductionsDays Out Diary