Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani, and Makena are no ordinary apes. These bonobos, like others of their species, are capable of reason and carrying on deep relationships - but unlike most bonobos, they also know American Sign Language.
Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab, doesn’t understand people, but animals she gets - especially the bonobos. Isabel feels more comfortable in their world than she’s ever felt among humans... until she meets John Thigpen, a very married reporter who braves the ever-present animal rights protesters outside the lab to see what’s really going on inside.
When an explosion rocks the lab, severely injuring Isabel and “liberating” the apes, John’s human interest piece turns into the story of a lifetime, one he’ll risk his career and his marriage to follow. Then a reality TV show featuring the missing apes debuts under mysterious circumstances, and it immediately becomes the biggest - and unlikeliest - phenomenon in the history of modern media. Millions of fans are glued to their screens watching the apes order greasy take-out, have generous amounts of sex, and sign for Isabel to come get them. Now, to save her family of apes from this parody of human life, Isabel must connect with her own kind, including John; a green-haired vegan; and a retired porn star with her own agenda.
Ape House delivers great entertainment, but it also opens the animal world to us in ways few novels have done, securing Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.
Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels: AT THE WATER'S EDGE, APE HOUSE, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, RIDING LESSONS, and FLYING CHANGES. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages, and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz in 2011.
She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and three sons, along with their dogs, cats, horses, birds, and the world’s fussiest goat.
Another book I'm sure I reviewed... lost also? I had bought this book when it first came out in the Chicago airport. Given it was the 2nd book after Water For Elephant....I remember-- liking it --- but not 'wild' about the overall book. It does pull on your heart strings as you get towards the end. Plus... my admiration for the authors research and love for these animals is what I do love.
I started this book under the impression that it was a piece of capital L Literature, but it turned out to be more along the lines of one of the earlier Anita Blake books with bonobos replacing the vampires. It took me a while to get into, but eventually I started to enjoy reading this. It's fun and silly and things explode. Despite what the jacket blurbs say, it's unlikely to change your life (unless you're the sort of person who sees an episode of Scooby-Doo and immediately starts a charitable organization for the treatment of ghost-related trauma in Great Danes). It boggles the mind that the author felt she had to do research on apes to come up with any of this.
I don’t seem to recall why I was such a “Water for Elephants” hater in the first place. But this fact hadn’t come up until I had read the tepid, all-too-unspecial “Ape House”—an animal lover’s dream but a literary person’s annoying albatross. I picked it up because after completing my thesis defense, there was nothing for me to do but to stare out at the open springtime air—I was that tired! & perhaps some cool short novel would then be the antidote to such heavy reading and self editing—of cranial activity that had gone, frankly, a bit haywire. But I REALLY was disappointed—this lacks all of “Elephant”’s elusive... bravado. Its epic quality & its bittersweet lovestory charm are completely absent from “Ape House.” The climax occurs without the reader even once noting it—but like every minor novel, you know that the last ten pages are written exclusively for the tying up of loose ends. Lame! Not even Rob Pattinson or Reese Witherspoon are foolish enough to fall for this one!
Sara Gruen is a wonderful writer and I truly enjoyed "Ape House". I previously read "Water for Elephants" and was eager to read her newest book. I loved "Water for Elephants" as it was a very well done and I learned a great deal from the book. I thought that I might be somewhat disappointed in "Ape House" because I found "Water for Elephants" so captivating. Ape House did not disappoint me, but "Water for Elephants" continues to be my favorite of Gruen's books.
I continue to be appalled and disappointed that humans can be so cruel and so greedy as some of the characters developed in this book. Unfortunately those type of individuals do exist. This book engaged me from the beginning. There are vivid descriptions of the apes, their language capacity, their family structure and their ability to understand and communicate with humans as well as with each other. The book has many well developed characters including writers, reporters, scientists and unethical film makers. Some you really feel a connection with, some you don't, and a few you really dislike.
As the story develops I learned many things about apes and their family interactions. In this story they were portrayed as much more caring and compassionate than their human counterparts and the incidents that Sara describes, both funny and sad, left me wanting to read more. Many of the glimpses of the ape's daily life were amusing and heartwarming, and I will never think of an M&M or a cheeseburger the same way after reading this book. As any of the books written about human exploitation of animals, there are difficult parts to read but it was well worth the time and emotional struggle. I recommend this book as a very fine read.
Sara Gruen obviously is a champion for the humane treatment of animals and it shines through in her fiction. It seems like she'd be a witty and kind and smart person, someone I'd really love to hang out with.
This book, though, was not a great read. And, I hate to say that.
In one of the previous reviews on this page, someone said that maybe she should have written a memoir about her experiences with the apes instead of trying to make a fiction story out of it, and I think that would have been a great idea. This story really did push the main idea--the apes--into the background, spotlighting instead too many superficial and stereotypical characters. The characters were flat and cartoonish at times, some of them making you wonder why they were even in the book at all. The situations followed almost soap-opera lines, with jack-in-the-box SURPRISE antics around every corner, and too much serendipity to be believable at all.
We've seen what she can do as a writer in Water for Elephants. I hope she can get back on top with her next book, because this one, sadly, was a dud.
I saw Sara Gruen speak about “Ape House” at the BEA before the release of the book. The woman is 199.99% crazy for bonobos, after having spent time in a language research center for apes in Iowa. Most of the cute short stories that she told about her own adventures showed up in the book, which begs the question; why didn’t she just make this nonfiction and bypass all the silliness? “Ape House” is stuffed with dues ex machinas, goofy coincidences, and caricatures right out of a high school improve show. She put on her clown mask and did the funky chicken trying to explain a serious issue; which is why “Ape House” is a book with the right idea, wrong genre.
Our hero John Thigpen is taken aback when he is assigned a story about a language center with bonobos. These apes practically run the center, and live an active life where they use surprisingly sophisticated ASL to speak with their trainers. Isabel Duncan, our heroine, describes the bonobos as ‘like family’. The drama here occurs of course when the lab is blown up and the bonobos are ‘sold’ to a porn filmmaker looking to make a reality show about the sex-loving apes. Of course, John and Isabel aren’t having any of it, and go on a strange adventure to save the apes.
The problem is that the adventure feels too strange. The goofiness of the characters they encounter (meth lab owners, stereotypical Russian porn stars, green haired vegans shouting ‘meat is murder!’, etc.) feel like a large skit that has nothing really to do with the bonobos or character development. The paternity scares, random drama with spouses, and commentary on beauty standards in Hollywood all distract the readers from the focus of the story. Gruen seems to want to share how intelligent and beautiful bonobos are, but this is completely lost. So lost, that she has to include a three page afterword that explains all of the ape behavior in the book was based on real ape behavior. Huh? Wuh? Just make a touching memoir about your real time at the language lab, and I would have been pumped!
Like a band’s so-so sophomore album after initial success, Gruen’s “Ape House” needed a lot more work before it hit the stands. As in, it needed to be deleted and then rewritten using my expert suggestions. Not an awful read, mind you, but not as rich as “Water for Elephants”. Come on Sara, I know you know better!
I was so prepared to love this book and, only 30 pages in, I thought I did. I got sucked into loving those bonobos so fast, and caring about what happening to them, Isabel, and John. Let me tell you - it didn't last long. Well... let me correct myself: My love for the PEOPLE didn't last long.
The rest of what I have to say is an extremely angry, spoilerific rant, which I pray you read if you think this was a book that was worth your time.
The novel lacked anything resembling character development and has a bumbling, senseless plot. It reads like the manuscript of a first-time novelist; in fact, I've read better manuscripts and self-published novels than this highly-acclaimed author's third book. If you love Sara Gruen or are masochistic, pick it up and brace yourself.
I picked up an advance reader's edition of this at the ALA conference this summer (2010). This is Sara Gruen's much-awaited secondfourth! novel - her Water for Elephants did very well (and the copy I recycled at my book group's holiday book exchange was much fought over).
The "ape house" has many meanings. On the surface, it's a community of bonobos living in a university research facility. The bonobos are highly intelligent and, in the end, far more human than many of the humans in the book. I don't want to put a lot of plot points in this review, so I'll write no more about that. Suffice it to say, this was a pageturner. I raced to finish it very late one night (far later than you'll usually find my light on!).
I'm not sure this quite makes the "literary fiction" cut for me. (Another reviewer uses the word "commercial" and I think that's quite apt.) The language wasn't particularly special, and there were some pretty flat characters (a couple were downright stereotypes). But I enjoyed it a lot. I think I'll hold on to this copy and wrap it up for this December's book group exchange!
Not sure why we had to have all that extra stuff about John's marriage. I guess to fill up space - there really just wasn't a lot happening, and certainly not all that much to do with the apes.
There's a rather loose story about Isabel trying to rescue the apes but it was so overshadowed by John and his marital problems. It was interesting learning a little about the ape's habits but ultimately there was just nothing special here.
Mundane is probably the most apt word - a whole lot of nothing happening amongst petty journalistic squabbles. I just didn't really care about any of these people or their problems.
Honestly, I came back to write a full review but find myself with very little to say about it I'm afraid. It's bland and boring and the apes are barely in it, to be honest.
Not for me, though I'm sure less critical fans of general fiction will find it a pleasant enough way to spend some reading time.
Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants was a favorite. So, I was eager to read her next novel, Ape House. I gladly plunked down the cash for a hardback edition. I would like a refund! The premise starts off engagingly enough. Fueled by a personal interest, Gruen decided to research and write about Great Apes and language acquisition and cognition. Not only can apes learn sign language, but they can use it in novel ways to communicate specific needs and wants apart from the learned sequences. And, apparently, they transfer this knowledge to their offspring. Gruen says in her author's note that she spent at least two years researching and studying the topic. She even visited the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa upon which the apes in the novel are modeled. She says it was a profound, life-changing experience. So, it is with complete incredulity that she then wrote the novel she wrote taking these intelligent creatures and turning them into pseudo porn stars on a live, streaming reality show on an internet site. I am not kidding. They frolic and order things they want off the internet. Isabel Duncan, not Dr. Duncan, is in charge of six apes (bonobos) at a cognitive language lab set in Lawrence, Kansas at the University of Kansas. She is a scientist or a linguist, perhaps. Problem number one. Those not from the midwest may not be the wiser in this minor detail, but there is no way that such a program would be associated with the University of Kansas, even with an Applied Linguistics program. Secondly, when the facility is bombed, in theory by eco-terrorists who want the apes freed, the Chancellor and the director of the program make an underhanded, lucrative, morally debased decision to sell the Apes to a Larry Flynn-type pornographer. I think not! And third, when Isabel comes home from the hospital, presumably located in Lawrence, she takes an elevator to her apartment. Unless she lives in a dormitory or a hotel, not very likely in Lawrence. This all unfolds in the opening chapters of the novel, leaving my credulity stretched very thin and my willingness to play along quite dampened. Why set the novel in a factual setting if you can't be bothered to research the setting? Why not create some fictionalized midwestern location? Why not use the real place in Iowa? I suspect that she was itching to find a way to throw in a thinly disguised Fred Phelps and his Westborough Baptist crazies out of Topeka into the storyline somehow. But this is frail justification for making such an obvious stumble in developing the setting.
The characters in the book are not well developed and are not likeable. Likeable characters will win you some reader forgiveness. Sadly, only the apes in the novel win my affection. Isabel Duncan, scientist, is whiny and useless. She displays an unusual lethargy and lack of intelligence. John Thigpen, unable to withstand the journalistic decline in print is downsized and finds himself out of a job when his breaking story on ape cognition is muscled in on by a more zealous and less scrupulous reporter. Thus reduced, he finds himself writing copy before resigning himself to the tabloid industry. Add in his attractive but spoiled, whiny, insecure wife, a cast of goofy, nerdy crusaders, a blackhearted, unscrupulous director/fiancee, and other unmemorable characters, and you have the makings of an entirely forgettable novel. The suspense and intrigue is contrived and fails to elicit even one heart thumping minute. Instead, I found myself flipping the pages in anticipation of the end. Unfortunately, consigned to a long car trip with no other reading material at hand, I forced myself to carry on. It's a rather ridiculous and preposterous set up complete with Russian strippers, meth lab explosions, a cute but misunderstood dog, and, don't forget the teeming protesters, "many of whose issues had only tenuous connections with apes." (p.160) I say much like the novel's connection with Gruen's so called research. Will the apes be saved? Yes. Do we learn more than we want to know about primate sexual habits? Yes, in a really gratuitous, non-interesting manner(pp. 176-177). Do I recommend this novel? NO. In fact, the more I think about it the less I like it!! So many directions it could have gone that would have been fascinating. And what happened to character development? There's so much to dislike. I kept asking myself if I was reading the same author whose work I admired previously? Such a big disappointment. Completely unremarkable and unlikeable for this reader.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Overall, critics considered Ape House a dissatisfying follow-up to Water for Elephants. With its evocative Depression-era setting and unforgettable characters, Water continues to enthrall legions of fans. Unfortunately, some reviewers found Ape House's intriguing premise overshadowed by poor editing, a "silly story," and "trite characters" (Washington Post). Others felt that Gruen glossed over key issues. A few did enjoy Ape House, and lauded Gruen's "knack ... for creating distinctive animal characters" (Boston Globe). The Great Ape Trust in Des Moines inspired Ape House, and the novel clearly shows Gruen's fascination with, and respect for, bonobo apes. For readers interested in the subject, and with slightly altered expectations, the novel might be worth a peek. Sadly, though, general readers should look elsewhere. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.
Solid three and a half stars, but I'll round up since I read this book in less than a day (and a busy one at that), and there are very few books that make me drop everything to read these days. I've read all three of Gruen's previous books, and enjoyed them all, though Water for Elephants was by far the most accomplished of the three. When I first heard the premise of this book, I was a little skeptical. It sounded forced. It's not. Everything about the Bonobos seems real and possible. In all of her books, Gruen has drawn animals well. As with Water for Elephants she has also done meticulous research.
The human characters are more hit and miss. The main characters have realistic motivations and convictions, and act accordingly. The peripheral characters fare less well; several seem almost cartoonish. The bad guys lack only mustaches to twirl. Similarly, the main plot is compelling, but there are several additional threads - particularly one involving a pizza place - that seem completely superfluous, and others that skirt the edge of satire (protesters from the Eastborough Baptist Church) but don't fully commit. The journalist protagonist's wife is trying to get a book published, but he admits to himself that her first book didn't have enough explosions and mayhem for him. I wonder if that's a meta-commentary on Gruen's own career?
Despite its flaws, this is an enjoyable book and a breezy read.
I would like to thank Bridget for helping me enjoy this book. Bridget, you read this expecting quality literature, or at least a good/touching story, which it was not, so you hated it. I then read it expecting it to be awful, which it also was not, so I liked it!
It wasn't particularly well-written, well-character-developed, etc., etc. I completely agree w/Bridget's review that some of the plot twists were fairly ridic - and convenient (guy comes into the place where the neighbor works? other guy has ex's last name? and other examples I won't mention b/c I'm too lazy to put in a spoiler). But I was still entertained! Also, I should mention that I, unlike Bridget, did not know where the apes wound up, b/c I read the paperback (apparently it's revealed on the book flap of the hardcover - lame!) So I'm sure that helped.
Basically, it was not quality, but the plot was entertaining, a la Jodi Picoult or Lisa Tucker.
As a final note, I've always thought Water for Elephants was overrated, anyway. It was a really good story and I gave it 4 stars on GR, but I never understood how it ranks up there w/Dragon Tattoo, Hunger Games, The Help, etc.
Ape House is superb! Gruen is an excellent writer and her ability to incorporate the interrelationship between human beings and animals makes her a unique and original voice. The animals here are bonobo apes, an endangered great ape species closest to humans. Bonobos are remarkable for their ability to communicate,(they can be taught sign language) their fine motor skills (can turn a page in a book one page at a time) and their sexuality. Apparently humans, dolphins and bonobos are the only species who participate in recreational sex. Gruen creates a riveting plot involving these apes and incorporates many current issues including the unethical and immoral use of primates in research, the rabid fascination we have with reality television, personal alienation and betrayal etc. I could not put the book down and became obsessed with these apes. Internet research provided instant gratification to photos and videos of these remarkable creatures. Highly recommended, especially for animal lovers.
I started this book on the plane leaving for vacation. I only read in the evening while my husband was watching TV at night and finished it in three days/evenings. It was SO GOOD! Fascinating about bonobos and how much they resemble human beings. Quite the sexual species. Sara Gruen writes so fluidly, easy to follow and understand. I learned a bunch as I was absorbed into this wonderful story.
This book lacked the majesty and wonder that made Water for Elephants so enticing. There are some graphic scenes of animal cruelty, which I found hard to read. The characters are likable, but not totally engrossing or unique. The amazingly human-like behavior of the bonobo chimps in the novel was really what had me reading to the end.
I LOVED Water for Elephants and honestly, was looking forward to reading Ape House. Same author...it should be just as good, if not better, right?
Not right. And now that I've read a few reviews from others, it seems I'm not the only one who was more than a little disappointed.
I'm sure that Gruen was trying to keep the plot line moving with all her twists and turns, but it all ended up feeling trite and some of the 'coincidences' that she used to connect characters (like a contrived paternity plot that was just silly from the start) were just TOO forced. Nothing seemed to develop naturally.
If the characters weren't totally and completely cliche (the monstrous mother-in-law, the Russian prostitute, the rebellious college intern), they completely whiny and inconsistent - or consistently whiny - like John and his wife, Amanda.
The ONLY parts of the book that I honestly enjoyed featured the bonobos. This is one area where you could tell the author had done her homework. I had not been aware of the Great Ape Trust and the amazing things that are going on there. It's actually not even that far away from where I live (about 5 hours).
I only wish she would have given the rest of her characters the same attention and took a little more time to make her plot lines a bit more believable.
Sara Gruen wrote one of my favorite novels, “Water For Elephants”, so I was really hoping that I would enjoy her latest novel, “Ape House.” Unfortunately, it completely fell flat. The story was clunky with cliché characters and absurd plot lines.
On the positive, it started with a great idea. What if Bonobos who could speak ASL fell into the hands of the wrong people, specifically a sleazy porn/reality TV producer? The story brings up many valid moral questions and puts forth some interesting ideas. Also, Gruen went to the Great Ape Trust ( a rare privilege) and had personal experience as part of her research.
I think this book may have been rushed. I am just guessing here, but I think Gruen’s publishers were rushing her to get her next book out and she didn’t have time to really work out the details. It’s a good idea that fell victim to poor execution. There were parts where I felt like the book might be headed in the right direction, but then somehow Russian strippers entered the story. Still scratching my head at that one!
Isabell Duncan is a research scientist studying language through teaching bonobo apes sign language. Her lab is blown up shortly after a visit from reporter John Thigpen, and the apes are unharmed but no longer in Isabell’s control. The resulting storyline of the book is the search for the missing Bonobo apes.
I loved WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and unfortunately can not say the same thing for this book. Although is was an entertaining read and obviously well researched, it did not have the character and flow of her previous book. In my personal opinion Ms. Gruen tries to tackle too many topics in this book … animal research, animal rights, reality television, prostitution, pornography, meth labs, the “Hollywood experience” and one too many relationship issues. It made for a bit of a disjointed story. Even the characters are a bit cliche ... the meddling mother-in-law, the almost perfect wife, the hooker with a heart of gold and the hero reporter. This one just didn't pull the heartstrings for me in the way I had anticipated.
Scrolling through the reviews, I find it interesting that most people seem to feel this book was a disappointment after Water for Elephants. I guess I'm in the minority; I didn't really like Water for Elephants that much (it was ok, but not something I'd rave about as others have), so I wasn't sure I'd like this book. But, my friend insisted that I read it and just had to trust her. I'm glad I did. At first I thought I was going to be disappointed; it seemed like the author was laying the groundwork for an affair between Isabelle and John that would be "acceptable". Fortunately, as my friend promised, nothing is "obvious" in this book. I was captivated by the bonobos' story line, especially because I've never really warmed to primates much, but I just found myself very interested in the topic in spite of myself.
I can see why there are complaints about flat characters and glossing-over of details though. (One thing that really bugged me was how all the "proof" was obtained was legal, and never challenged in court). Overall though, it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.
A Casa dos Primatas é muito mais do que um simples romance. É uma narrativa sobre formas de vidas semelhantes com a capacidade de tocar o homem, que as desvaloriza, através das suas parecenças e diferenciações. São formas de vida apaixonantes que com a sua inocência, com as suas definições do que é certo e errado, e com a sua capacidade de aproximação afectiva não deixarão indiferentes quem tenha um coração aberto. Fala sobre símios, bonobos, afectivos, inteligentes e, de forma profunda, sexualmente emotivos.
Isabel, a nossa protagonista, vive intensamente a sua profissão e é dotada de uma sensibilidade fora do comum. Ela é os nossos olhos num universo que evidência perspicazmente a influência do ser humano no reino animal, as suas consequências e evoluções, para ambas as partes, ao investigar a linguagem dos símios, ensinando-lhes a linguagem gestual e simbólica. Algo extremamente interessante e comprovado nos dias de hoje. John é um jornalista que tem o privilégio de assistir ao trabalho realizado por Isabel e ao qual não fica indiferente. Atravessando uma fase conturbada no seu casamento e profissionalmente, ele será uma peça crucial neste enredo complexo, bem trabalhado e absolutamente enriquecedor. Juntas, sem no entanto terem contacto permanente, estas personagens são determinantes e oferecem-nos a possibilidade de conhecer diversas perspectivas sociais, um leque muito variado de intervenientes que alargam o horizonte ficcional sem, no entanto, ultrapassarem a linha ténue do real que está presente ao longo de toda a história.
Kanadalaissyntyisen Sara Gruen Apinatalo kertoi dramaattisen tarinan siitä, mitä tapahtui, kun viihdemogulit kiinnostuivat bonoboista ts. ihmisapinoista. Isabel Duncan oli yliopistotutkija, joka oli vuosikausia kommunikoinut bonoboiden kanssa. Eräänä päivänä laboratorioon tehtiin ikävä hyökkäys, jossa Isabel loukkaantui vakavasti, ja samalla bonobot katosivat.
Yliopisto luopui ihmisapinoista laboratoriohyökkäyksen jälkeen. Pian mainostaulut mainostivat erään ohjelmafirman uusinta tuotantoa, jonka pääosissa olisivat kyseiset yliopiston myymät ihmisapinat. Luvassa olisi 24 tuntia vuorokaudessa tosi-tv-ohjelmaa bonobojen elämästä.
Sara Gruen teos Apinatalo oli täynnä valheita ja petoksia. Isabel yritti saada kaikin keinoin Apinatalon kuvaukset loppumaan. Myös eräs journalisti oli kiinnostunut kaivamaan todellisia syitä mm. laboratorioräjähdyksen taustavaikuttajista. Kirjan tarina eteni Isabelin ja kyseisen journalistin toiminnasta. Oliko mahdollista pelastaa ihmisapinat niille epäluonnollisesta ympäristöstä?
Sara Gruenin aiempi teos Vettä elefanteille hurmasi ihmiset sekä kirjana että elokuvana. Apinatalossa on viihdyttäviä jännityselementtejä ja teemoja, jotka pistivät miettimään mitä oikeuksia eläimillä on ihmisten luomissa ympäristöissä.
While I've loved the last 2 Sara Gruen books that I've read, I was still surprised with just how much I loved this one. The elements of mystery and suspense are woven so seamlessly together in this story. There is more here than the story of the apes, or the story of their caretakers, or even the story of those covering those stories. I had a terrible time putting this book down. The criminal plots were not something I was expecting when I started this book but she has proven that she can handle writing those as well. I came away from reading this book with an even deeper appreciation for Sara Gruen's writing talent. I also came away having fallen totally in love with the bonobos. I actually sat next to my husband with the laptop last night showing him pictures of the bonobos at the Great Ape Trust. These are fascinating and amazing creatures and there is so much that we can learn from them. There are parts of this book that are hard to read, because they are so strongly rooted in the truth. As a human race, we have a long way to go and much to learn about the way we treat not only animals, but each other as well. Once again, I am fascinated by how a book can open our eyes to the situation of those around us while showing us so much about ourselves. I am eagerly awaiting the next novel from Sara Gruen. I will be among the first in line to read it!
How in the world was this written by the same author who gave the world Water for Elephants? Ms. Gruen switched publishing houses between books, and it makes me wonder if her previous editor deserves most of the credit for the bestselling novel. This book is supposed to be about bonobos taken from a research center and turned into the stars of a reality show. And that plot is there, in the background, hidden by boring, poorly mapped plot lines that go nowhere fast (that many of the summaries for this book begin with a long, drawn-out narrative about Ms. Gruen’s research into primate research rather than the novel itself should have clued me into the problems of this book). In lieu of character development, the book features lots and lots of melodramatic dysfunctional backgrounds, which are supported by absurd situations, and characters who should probably be under psychiatric care, given their mood swings and reactions. Usually, I can find the hint of a decent plot in a mediocre book, but even that’s missing here. To top it off, Ms. Gruen paints an unflattering and unrealistic portrayal of Los Angeles. Look, lady, I know my city has issues, but don’t mock it until you know it (or at least research it – similar to bonobos, Angelenos can be studied). Good if studying what a published novel should not be, otherwise not recommended.
Though not as good as Water for Elephants, I was engaged throughout this story. The best part of the book was getting to know the apes. There were some issues with John's storyline that didn't seem cohesive to the tale and could have been edited out.
Years ago, I read Water for Elephants which I truly loved. Although I was aware that Sara Gruen went on to write other books, I think I fell into that reader void where a book is loved so much that it's scary to seek out other titles by same author. Will I feel the same way about their writing? Will I unfairly compare much loved book to the one I am holding in my hand? But when a fellow bookclub member brought this 2010 title to our meeting, I knew I was curious enough to give it a try.
The story is told through the eyes of Isabel Duncan, scientist and John Thigpen, journalist and their individual journeys to try and save a family of bonobos from human exploitation. Inspired by Koko the gorilla, Gruen sets out to explore the human-ape discourse. The bonobos in this novel communicate with Isabel and the others through American Sign Language. This was definitely a draw for me in reading this novel and I wanted to learn more about that. I definitely wanted those bonobos saved!
But like Transformers , the storyline became so much about the humans. I wanted to hear from the bonobos! After reading the authors notes and interviews, I can understand the parallels between the bonobos and the two main protagonists that Sara Gruen was trying to make but I wasn't as interested in that. However, if I push that feeling aside, I can still concede that I was still intrigued enough to read this story in one sitting.
★★★★✬ 4.5 stars This book was quite an experience, and on one hand, if you care about animals, you should definitely read it, but on the other hand – if you're sensitive and you love animals, maybe you shouldn't. Cause you don't know what's been done to them, and I'm not talking about those we, er, eat. Animals are being used for chemical testing, disease research – and in the cruelest ways possible, and you are not aware of that. You should be, and this book exposes it well. Another thing it does is teach you to love those who are the closest to us genetically, our little brothers and sisters, so to say – the great apes. These wonderful, incredible animals, or should I say – people, learn to understand both their own language, the sign language and English, and can communicate in sign language with you in turn. It's amazing to read about the structure of their societies, their families and their actual beliefs, which weren't just made up for the book, but taken from real experiences with bonobos. It's truly touching and humbling to read about how, well, crap we actually are at accepting that our way is not the only way. Humanity needs to suck up its ego.
Another thing I've got to mention, which you'll laugh at – but honestly, it's curly hair rep. This book tells it all! Even how back in the dark ages of 2008 having curly hair was considered being simply lazy. I couldn't stop nodding my head yes to all of those experiences. Aside from that, the book really is well written and extremely suspenseful! It's both a mystery, a thriller and just an emotional ride. It's definitely worth picking up!
Loved the promotion and dissemination of information about the culture and language skills of the bonobo apes. The narrative also succeeds pretty well developing the main characters of the journalist John and primatologist Isabel and getting us to root for them. However, the novel aspires primarily to be a "pot-boiler", yet its plot twists and narrative drive do not rise to the high quality of entertainment many others achieve toward that goal. The animal rights issues are too stereotyped and motives of most factions are too crass and simplistic to consider this a literary expose of any sort or even serious yellow journalism in a Sinclair Lewis vein. Because the author covers various angles on the sell-out to commercial interests by journalists and writers, she might have done better to stretch more to a satirical approach. Unlike other reviewers, I didn't find the attempt of the a reality show based on the bonobos unrealistic (e.g. Meerkat Manor had a good run). What was unrealistic is that a university would dump its commitment to a primate language lab so readily as depicted in the book or that today there still is a lot of nefarious laboratory work going on using apes.