Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo
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Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  1,090 ratings  ·  220 reviews
A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes-who teach her a new truth about love and belonging.

In 2005, Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country reeling from a brutal decade-long war that had claimed the li...more
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published May 27th 2010 by Gotham (first published January 1st 2010)
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Sarah Keliher
When I picked this book up out of a pile of Advance Reading Copies, I had only a vague idea of what a Bonobo was, and an even vaguer grasp of what was happening in Congo. I'd heard plenty of news reports about atrocities, but, I'm sorry to admit, the who and the why confused me. Vanessa Woods not only introduces us to the social lives of the Bonobos in a way that will melt the heart of the crankiest reader, but also provides an effortless synopsis of modern Congolese history for those of us who...more
I first learned about bonobos in Sara Gruen's Ape House, which was a great book because of how she portrayed the bonobos-- selfless, almost human creatures. I heard about this book when I saw that the author was coming to the college to speak.

Bonobo Handshake is a wonderful story about love, war and hope. Vanessa Woods writing was easy, funny and informative. The information she provided about Congo will haunt me forever. I can't pick up my cell phone without thinking of the lives that were los...more
This is a very moving book. It is part memoir and part history lesson. But mostly it is an account of the bonobos, the world's most endangered ape. Humans and bonobos share 98.7% of their DNA. Common chimpanzees, while very intelligent, can be quite aggressive and have been observed to wage war against other groups of chimps. Bonobos on the other hand live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.
The author recoun...more
Ruth Seeley
Vanessa Woods is quite a good writer - there's no awkwardness of phrasing here, no need to turn back pages to try to figure out what she's talking about. As a long-time fan of the primatologist women like Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey, and having learned a lot about chimp behaviour from reading William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach, I was interested in learning more about bonobos.

Sadly, you won't learn an awful lot about bonobos by reading this book (you'll learn a bit - just not as much as you might...more
At first, I thought this book was an Eat, Pray, Love with apes and genocide, but as I got more into it, I found it was much more interesting than that in its depiction of the bonobo orphanage, the study of bonobo behaviour, and the description of the tragic events in the DRC, including the impact of those events on individuals Woods came to know there.

Some of the most moving parts of the book are about the bonobo-bonobo and bonobo-people interactions, though it can veer at times into the sentime...more
I liked this book for the most part. Before having read it I didn't really even know that bonobos exist, which is unfortunate because they are such fascinating creatures. I really enjoyed how the author described the bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo as having very distinct personalities (gay fashionista, tomboy, princess, goddess, etc.) Animals of a particular species often get lumped together as being pretty much the same as far as demeanor goes, but this really showed that they differ just as much as...more
I won this book through the First Reads Giveaway.

A few years ago when I was taking my first anthropology class I read a book about bonobos from the library and I was fascinated.

There are a number of things I enjoyed about this book. Besides learning about the bonobos, I learned a great deal about Africa and Congo. I have to admit that my familiarity with Africa's current events doesn't extend much more that a brief lecture I got in high school, so I really appreciated the mini history lesson th...more
This is a very important book. For too many people, bonobos (my spellchecker doesn't even consider their name to be a word!) are the least known member of the great primate family, often considered to be no more than "pygmy chimps." They aren't- they're a separate species, but like chimps, share some 97.6 of their genes with humans. The trick is, as Wood's and her husband's research attempts to discover- is What Is the Difference- because there are many.
Bonobos are considered the most erotic of...more
Faye Gray
When I first started reading this, I assumed it would be about a lady that was lucky enough to have a career working with Bonobos, something I always thought would be fascinating! This book also tells us more about the genocide and wars that are still going on in Congo, where the Bonobos live. Vanessa Woods is an excellent down-to-earth writer! I have laughed and cried while reading this book. I am also more aware of what the wars in Congo are about. She tells about the slaves having to work in...more
To my way of thinking, this is a message book. Not particularly well written but alerting the world to the plight of the bonobos. The observations are interesting about the bonobos social behavior and the difference between humans, chimps and the bonobos and I actually felt, after hearing Woods' arguments, that the bonobos were superior to chimps and unfortunately, humans are closer to chimps in their behavior.
As great literature, this is not it. I'm not even sure I would classify it as good li...more
Jul 26, 2010 Sera rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sera by: Frank Stasio--WUNC's "The State of Things"
In this book, Vanessa Woods skillfully interweaves three stories: her personal life, consisting of her temper tantrums directed at her husband Brian and her longing for understanding how the Vietnam war affected her estranged father; the history of the Congo with a focus on war; and her and her husband’s research and relationships with chimps and bonobos at the sanctuaries.

The connection between these three stories is violence. Most of the bonobos who end up in the sanctuary in the Congo have be...more
This book was on display at the library and all I could remember was that I'd read another book about bonobos, fell in love, and wanted to read more; and promptly didn't because of course another book captured my attention. When I read the "Further Reading" section at the back I was reminded the book I'd read was "Ape House" by Sara Gruen in January of 2011. (Handshake was published a year before House) now that you have my back story - -
I loved this book, I laughed and cried several times. Van...more
Jan 02, 2013 Kate rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: dnf
I bailed on this book just started reading. There were just too many moments that made me cringe and roll my eyes to keep going. The author musing on how strange it is that humans are the only apes to develop to the extent that we have? No, that's not fate sweetheart, that's because humans pummeled every other humanoid primate to death, and we're getting pretty close to doing the same to all the remaining great apes too.

But more than that, repeatedly commenting on how the Congo is "a fucked up...more
Maggie Campbell
"It's hard to live with someone you haven't forgiven. It's like a cavity in my tooth that I can't see but I keep pushing at with my tongue. I'm afraid it will crack but I can't leave it alone."

"...Because resentment and anger are what you old on to when you have all the time in the world."

"The only way love endures is because of one simple gift. Forgiveness."

"We all carry our own tales of violence. The distant war going on over there is not so different from the war we fight here. I don't know w...more
Margo Tanenbaum
This is an extraordinary book--a combination memoir, animal behavior book, and book about African politics rolled into one amazing story of a young woman who marries a primate researcher and finds herself living in the Congo at a bonobo reserve. She writes with unusual humor, pathos, and good sense about bonobos (a close relative of both humans and chimpanzees but a separate species)and how they help us understand what makes us human. The contrast between the loving, peaceful society of the bono...more
Ron Davidson
In a review of another book, I wrote that I'm a sucker for chimpanzee stories. Now I'm a bigger sucker for bonobo stories after reading this book, a fascinating story about something I knew very little about. The author is clearly passionate about her subjects -- which include more than just bonobos. She speaks with great compassion of the Congolese people, who suffered greatly in the most devastating war since World War II. (How many Americans have even heard of this war?) And she successfully...more
Lorri Coburn
I had not heard of Bonobos, a cousin of the chimpanzee. Bonobos don't have the killer instinct that chimps have--instead they are lovers and engage in lots of sex. Vanessa lived in the Congo with her anthropologist husband, who is researching what makes the bonobos so cooperative. This story covers her joys, heartbreaks, and disillusionments. I was surprised to fall in love with the bonobos, too, as her character descriptions are excellent. As a result, I cried and laughed throughout.

Oct 01, 2010 Larisa rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Debbie, David M.
I thought this was just going to be a book about animals, but it's so much more: an exploration of what makes us human (both the good and the bad traits that we have), a young woman's journey of self-discovery, and the most in-depth explanation of the wars in the Congo that I have encountered (and I came to this book fresh from reading Jeffrey Tayler's "Facing the Congo"). I couldn't believe how much Vanessa Woods was able to pack into one regular-size book! I laughed at her often snarky relatio...more
Interesting book. I listened to it on tape. Learned a lot about chimpanzees and bonobos, also about the Congo. It's amazing how these people persevered in the face of war and atrocities to protect orphaned apes and continue their research. I had no idea how big chimps are (the ones you see on TV are babies) nor how dangerous. Bonobos are very different from chimps and far less numerous, and much less is known about them. Woods sounds like a spoiled brat but her experiences in the Congo are well...more
William Trently
A story about creatures with whom we share greater than 98% DNA. For me, this was an intensely emotional ride that opens windows into the dirty recesses of biomedical research, illegal wildlife trade, and Congo’s political history. It is inundated with atrocities and insights into the brighter and darker sides of humanity. A photo of a frail, suffering Kata (who had her mother torn from her) snuggled in the arms of a woman who has given so much of her life caring for these animals sums it up wit...more
I received this book from Goodreads Firsteads Giveaway. I really enjoyed this book, although there are some tough parts, showing the worst of man and animal. She explains the political background well. She is not concerned with personal redemption, and focuses on her love of the animals and their story. If you care about animals, bonobos or chimps, and aren't bothered by the mention of penis and clitoris repeatedly, you will enjoy this book, and probably learn something about African politics.
I am a big fan of the Great Apes, after all they're extended members of my family. I have read a little bit about bonobos over the years, but knew a lot less about them than the chimps, gorillas and orangutans. The information in the book was fascinating. I'm very jealous of all the sex the bonobos are having and am thinking of converting. In any case, if you are interested in primates and the differences between chimps and bonobos, this is the book for you.
If there were six stars, I'd give them to this book. Woods' writing is clear and direct, funny and vulnerable. She weaves together so many fascinating threads: her own adventure and romance, the history of the Congo (which found comprehensible for the first time), the amazing relationships with and among the Bonobos, and the fascinating implications of their nature and the nature of chimps for what makes humans tick. I already feel like reading it again.
Joseph Michael Owens
Sep 18, 2011 Joseph Michael Owens rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
I've got a thing for apes and what we can learn from them. If all I got out of this book was a trove of fantastic knowledge about Bonobos (which I did), that would have been enough. But this book also gave me insight into the bloody civil wars that have ravaged, not just the Congo, but the whole of Central Africa. I like that this book doesn't shy away from the messier parts in its exploration to discover what it is that makes us human!
Laura Cushing
This is an interesting account of Vanessa Woods' work with bonobos. I haven't heard much about bonobo culture, other than they are chimpanzee like but without as much violence. It was interesting to learn about the differences between chimps and bonobos. Bonobo society seems to be about food sharing and sex and a lot more cooperation than competition.

There were some disturbing parts to the book, such as the fact that bonobos seem to fully expect those studying and caring for them to participate...more
Deena Scintilla
I received this as a Goodreads Advance Copy Giveaway and have not wanted to put it down so it'll be a quick read. I've always enjoyed reading about our closest relatives since taking a Physical Anthropology class in CA many, many years ago. OK. so back to reading the book.....oh, and thanks Goodreads for my copy!

Loved it. Altho parts of it were heartbreaking, there was also a lot of joy and humor.
Vanessa Woods considered chimpanzees her primate of choice for study. After spending time in the jungles of Costa Rica, she had an opportunity to return to Africa, specifically Uganda, where she had worked before. When she arrives, she meets Brian, an American who has recently finished his PhD and is there to do field research on chimp behavior. She quickly falls for him and agrees to marry him a few months later. Instead of working there, Brian becomes fascinated with learning about bonobos, a...more
Deb Mj
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. I love the author's writing style; unlike some who write memoirs from a position of self-importance and no sense of humor, Ms. Woods is personable, self-deprecating and honest about her perceived shortcomings. But the book really is a tribute to the bonobos, a very endangered species, and to the people and land of the Congo, a country decimated by genocide and war. Her comparisons between the behaviors of the bonobos and chimpanzees, and how they relat...more
Rachel (Sfogs)
This is one of those books that everyone one should read.
You learn so much about the Bonobos, the Congo and about people themselves.
I am in awe of the survivors in this book, having gone through so much and still being able to get through, especially the young rescued Bonobos!
Lola ya Bonobo does such great work, and it is the only Bonobo sanctuary in the world. It rescues, rehabilitates and re-releases Bonobos into the wild.

How is it that the most peaceful of apes, lives in one of the most dan...more
I loved this book. It was moving, tender, educational and thought provoking. As a psychologist, I find their research fascinating and their experiences both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I am inspired by the author's stories, messages and words. Despite her acknowledged self-absorption at times, she is clearly tenacious, brilliant, loving and laugh-out-loud witty too. It reminded me that I want to be more globally aware and take some action when I can to make the world a kinder more loving pla...more
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Vanessa is an award winning journalist and author of Bonobo Handshake (Gotham 2010). She has written three children’s books; It’s True! There Are Bugs In Your Bed (2005), It’s True! Space Turns You Into Spaghetti (2006), and It’s True! Pirates Ate Rats (2007). It’s True! Space Turns You Into Spaghetti won the Acclaimed Book award from the Royal Society, UK.

Vanessa is an internationally published j...more
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“We do terrible things to the ones we love. We cheat and lie and betray them, for thirty pieces of silver or our own selfish hearts. The only way love endures is because of one simple gift. Forgiveness.” 2 likes
“If there are those you love, whoever or wherever you are, hold them. Find them and hold them as tightly as you can. Resist their squirming and impatience and uncomfortable laughter, and just feel their heart throbbing against yours. Give thanks that for this moment, for this one precious moment, they are here, they are with you, and they know they are utterly, completely, entirely loved.” 0 likes
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