In 2006, Benjamin Mee and his extended family bought a broken-down, failing zoo in the English countryside, the Dartmoor Wildlife Park. If that isn't odd enough to get your attention, the reason should: Mee's father had died, his widowed mother could not maintain their big house on her own and would not be happy in a smaller home where she couldn't have all her children and grandchildren visit regularly.
And several members of the family, including Benjamin Mee and his mother, had a dream of running a zoo. That's right. They bought a zoo, in part, to be a family business, and in part, to be a retirement home for their elderly mom.
It's Ben Mee that tells the story, and we follow him, his wife, and two children, and they uproot their lives in southern France, and move back to the UK, go through the often hair-raising twists and turns of negotiating the purchase of the zoo, repairing everything that has worn out or broken down during its slow decline from a previously profitable attraction, hiring qualified staff, and getting, finally, to opening day.
At the same time, we are following Ben's wife's battle with cancer.
Ben Mee was a newspaper columnist transitioning into a writer on wildlife and animal behavior at the start of this adventure, and tells the tale in an easy, clear, engaging way. He and his family aren't mere dilettantes; they are determined to run a modern, commercially successful, but also scientifically worthwhile zoo. Ben in particular has a clear vision of what he is trying to achieve, and works toward it with determination and imagination.
This is a story that's both delightful and educational.
I borrowed this book from the library.