Benjamin Mee was living that life that he thought he wanted. In the summer of 2004 he has moved his young family to rural France, leaving behind years of busy London life but taking his writing career with him. He is the proud owner of two very rustic barns that need enormous amounts of work. Perfect for a writer of do-it-yourself columns, he will have plenty of inspiration.
Life, as it is wont to do, intervenes. Benjamin's lovely young wife Katherine is diagnosed with a brain tumor. She is treated aggressively and early but the type of cancer is one of the fastest growing kinds and is likely to recur. With admirable courage, the couple faces the unthinkable. The treatment is successful and they have hope.
At some point during the crisis, Benjamin's sister sends him a pamphlet of a zoo that is for sale in Dartmoor, England. Somehow, this is what he has always wanted. In a fantastic co-operative effort, his entire extended family bands together to try to make the dream a reality. After much exhausting back-and-forth the zoo is purchased and the family moves in.
Now the pressure really mounts as Benjamin, Katherine, their small children, his Mom and his brother Duncan all work together to turn the run-down zoo back into a thriving business. In the midst of the chaos, Katherine's two-year remission comes to an end and Benjamin is sidetracked, caring for his now terminally ill wife.
When I received this book in the mail I opened it up and read the jacket flap. Just that, and I was teary-eyed. So I turned to the first page and before I even looked up I was on page 120.
No one should have to deal with the kind of stress that this family went through. But the zoo, while a source of enormous pressure to get it up and running, was also the path through the grief and the way back to life.
The animals need you every day, even days when you don't want to get out of bed. The story is engrossing and heartbreaking at times, but ultimately life-affirming and I was cheering for this family and thrilled for their success.