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Ape House by Sara Gruen

abstract:MyAltTextHere What would you do if you could talk to animals? What would you say? What would this discovery mean to our society? Sara Gruen’s award winning novel Ape House is a thought provoking read, which poses several questions about how we treat our closest relatives.

Gruen holds a mirror to human culture and we can see it reflected in the engaging eyes of a great ape. Bonobos are part of the great ape family, they are less aggressive and dominant than chimpanzees and are distinguished by their long legs, pink lips, and dark faces. Their facial expressions, and hand gestures are freakishly human in nature, and it’s this human connection that intrigued award-winning writer Sara Gruen.

“Although John already knew that the bonobos’ preferences varied (for example he knew Mbongo’s favourite food was green onions and that Sam loved pears), he was surprised by how distinct, how different, how almost human, they were.”

article:
Bond Street Books
June 20, 2011
MyAltTextHere Sara Gruen has written four novels and each one has had an animal at its centre. It was her third novel Water for Elephants that captured the hearts of readers across the globe and shot her story onto the big screen. Film rights for Ape House have already been granted to Ellen Degeneres and her production company ‘Crazy Monkey’. Gruen has come a long way since moving to the US from Canada back in 1999. She moved to take a job as a technical writer but was let go after two years and tried her hand at fiction.

We meet Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani and Makena, six bonobos who can ask for Starbucks coffee as if they grew up around the corner from one.

“WANT COFFEE. Sure, I can make coffee. WANT CANDY COFFEE. ISABEL GO. HURRY GIMME.”

Isabelle Duncan is the scientist in charge but as you read on you can tell the apes are not her patients or research specimens, but her family. She knows their needs, but also their personality quirks and individual features. All this is ripped away when an explosion at the lab leaves Isabelle seriously injured and the apes to fend for themselves. The bonobos are placed in a house covered with cameras (like Big Brother) as a TV producer exploits their sexual habits to his disgusting advantage. Isabelle watches on as the apes try and communicate using sign language, but no one is listening. They call for her, and as a reader you can feel her pain and anguish in not being able to reach them.

Struggling reporter, John Thigpen, puts his career and marriage on the line to follow the story of the apes and the woman who is fighting for them. Gruen sheds a light on human nature, our ability to love and forgive, as well as deceive and betray. While projects like the Great Ape Trust exist we are still amazingly cruel to a species that share so much of our genetics and culture. We still inject animals with disease, conduct painful experiments, and keep intelligent beings locked up in cells until they go mad. Gruen is an obvious animal lover hoping to shed light on an issue that needs to be dealt with – how do we treat an animal that speaks our language and understands our culture? If they are communicating with us, are we really listening?

MyAltTextHere Ape House is a page-turner, an animal based thriller. The human characters are relatable in their flaws and aspirations. There are many humorous moments that make this a fantastic read. The interaction with the bonobos adds warmth and lets us in on an experience that we can only imagine – to talk with a great ape.

“Even though he’d read that bonobos were different, he hadn’t expected her to be so physical with them. His surprise must have been evident, because she stopped and said, “Over the years, they’ve become more human, and I’ve become more bonobo,” and in that moment he’d felt a flash of understanding, like he’d been allowed to peek briefly through the crack.”

 

 

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