Sunday, September 26, 2010

Page 37: Ape House

Ape House by Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) should change the way you think about bonobos or as many people refer to them, great apes.  Isabel Duncan is a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab at a major university.  She is studying the learning behavoir and language skills of Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena.  They are able to reason, and know American Sign Language.  They communicate with each other in their own language and with Isabel.  A reporter, John Thigpen, does an article for his newspaper on the research lab, and is forever changed as a result of his direct interaction with the bonobos.

An explosion destroys the lab and severely injures Isabel.  The bonobos escape and later turn up in a reality TV show in New Mexico.  The man who has the bonobos is more of a P.T. Barnum, and certainly not a Jane Goodall.  He doesn't care about the research that the bonobas have been involved in, he only wants to exploit them for as much money as he possibly can.  Those of you who have ready Water for Elephants will find this theme familiar.

The rest of the story plays out as Isabel tries to rescue her bonobos.  It also follows the life changes experienced by John Thigpen and his wife as they move across the country and start new jobs.  John ends up playing a major role in helping Isabel, but you need to read the book to find out how.

This is a good story, and will change the way you think about animals, especially the bonobos. Their intelligence, sense of humor, playfulness, and use of language are more human than we care to admit.  This book is worth reading just to discover more about them.  Here are a couple of reviews:

"Sara Gruen knows things--she knows them in her mind and in her heart.  And, out of what she knows, she has created a true thriller that is addictive from its opening sentence.  Devour it to find out what happens next, but also to learn remarkable and moving things about life on this planet.  Very, very few novels can change the way you look at the world around you.  This one does." (Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife)

"I read Ape House in one joyous breath.  Ever an advocate for animals, Gruen brings the apes to life with the passion of a novelist and the accuracy of a scientist.  She has already done more for bonobos than I could do in a lifetime.  The novel is immaculately researched and lovingly crafted.  If people fall in love with our forgotten, fascinating, endangered relative, it will be because of Ape House."  (Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake)

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