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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  1,844 ratings  ·  286 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
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published May 27th 2010 by Gotham (first published January 1st 2010)
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"If I have learned one thing from Congo, it is this: If there are those you love, whoever or wherever they 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 hearts throbbing against yours and 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." – Vanessa Woods

I go bananas for apes, so it's
Saleh MoonWalker
Onvan : Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo - Nevisande : Vanessa Woods - ISBN : 1592405460 - ISBN13 : 9781592405466 - Dar 278 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2010
else fine
Feb 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, read2010
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
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, history, science
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
Adrienne Drobnies
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
Ashley V
Apr 23, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Ruth Seeley
Dec 03, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: green
Subtitle: "A memoir of love and adventure in the Congo". To hear Vanessa Woods tell it, she is a bit flighty, unserious, and overemotional. For the first few chapters, I appreciated her realistic self-appraisal. By the time I reached the end of the book, though, I am more of the opinion that she's a deeper thinker than she lets on at first.
In case you haven't heard, bonobos are the "second chimp", with humans being the third. It wasn't so long ago that there was some uncertainty as to whether
Mar 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
I was surprised by this book. There are many parts of it that make a whole.
There is the story of Vanessa and her husband undertaking research on Bonobos and Chimps.
There is their quest on why humans developed the way to do.
There are the animals themselves with their different behaviours, personalities and preferences.
There is the story of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the various and recent wars and genocide which have gone mainly forgotten.
There are the people of the Congo who live in hope
Jun 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Vanessa Woods writer her memoir of working with bonobo orphans in the Congo. It is much more than a simple memoir though. She shares her love story with meeting, falling in love with, and working with her husband. I was intrigued by the scientific studies they were conducting and the comparison between chimps and bonobos. It was also a loving look into the culture of the Congo and the wonderful people who dedicated their lives to saving the bonobo orphans. The memoir has also provided me with ...more
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Touching! Having spent myself 4 months in Berlin observing Bonobos, Vanessa manages to make me cry several time.

If you want to know more about yourself and us human as a specie, this book will open your eyes.
Jun 21, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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
Jun 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club-reads
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
Cyn Armistead
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I nearly put this book down after the first chapter, because I wanted to learn about Bonobos, not atrocities in the Congo. I stuck with it because it was the most interesting of the audiobooks that were already on my phone when I was making a long drive, and I got halfway through it during that drive. I was hooked by then, and needed to know what happened to these particular Bonobos and the humans around them.

Now, I still don't feel that I needed the explicit descriptions of violence. I could
Faye Gray
Jul 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bonobo Handshake is that rare important book that I wish all people would read, for it is not just a brief treatise about our closest non-human cousins, but it is also a heartbreaking reflection of the horrors of which we are repeatedly and maddeningly capable, and the inspiring ways we press on despite it all. And when I say “we,” I’m not simply talking about humans.

That’s not to say this is a depressing read. While author Vanessa Woods does not shy away from the terrible truths and graphic
Jan 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Ron Davidson
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Margo Tanenbaum
May 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa, animals
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 ...more
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  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 ...more
Lorri Coburn
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.

Liz Davaine
Aug 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2019
*2.5 rounded up* I have a love hate relationship with this book. I listened to it on audiobook and by the halfway point I wanted to quit, but I am glad I finished it. I didn't even realize Bonobos existed and I appreciated learning about a new species of animal. I also got a new insight of the area of Congo and realized how little I knew about the wars going on in that area. On the negative side I got really annoyed with the relationship of the author and her husband (how she was annoyed he ...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
May 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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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
“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.” 7 likes
“When I talk to people about what makes us human, some people say it’s our tears. Because we are the only ones who weep, only we can feel true sorrow. When I hear this, I remember Isiro’s face, her anguished eyes as she cried for Mikeno, how she screamed at the keepers with her teeth bared and pushed at the poles. How she dashed back to his body and dug her fingers into his chest as if the strength of her grip could bring him back. There is sorrow without tears. Of course there is.” 4 likes
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