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Ape House: A Novel Hardcover – September 7, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385523211
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385523219
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (314 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,045,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sara Gruen on Ape House

Right before I went on tour for Water for Elephants, my mother sent me an email about a place in Des Moines, Iowa, that was studying language acquisition and cognition in great apes. I had been fascinated by human-ape discourse ever since I first heard about Koko the gorilla (which was longer ago than I care to admit) so I spent close to a day poking around the Great Ape Trust’s Web site. I was doubly fascinated--not only with the work they’re doing, but also by the fact that there was an entire species of great ape I had never heard of. Although I had no idea what I was getting into, I was hooked.

During the course of my research for Ape House, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Great Ape Trust--not that that didn’t take some doing. I was assigned masses of homework, including a trip to York University in Toronto for a crash course on linguistics. Even after I received the coveted invitation to the Trust, that didn’t necessarily mean I was going to get to meet the apes: that part was up to them. Like John, I tried to stack my odds by getting backpacks and filling them with everything I thought an ape might find fun or tasty--bouncy balls, fleece blankets, M&M’s, xylophones, Mr. Potato Heads, etc.--and then emailed the scientists, asking them to please let the apes know I was bringing “surprises.” At the end of my orientation with the humans, I asked, with some trepidation, whether the apes were going to let me come in. The response was that not only were they letting me come in, they were insisting.

The experience was astonishing--to this day I cannot think about it without getting goose bumps. You cannot have a two-way conversation with a great ape, or even just look one straight in the eye, close up, without coming away changed. I stayed until the end of the day, when I practically had to be dragged out, because I was having so much fun. I was told that the next day Panbanisha said to one of the scientists, “Where’s Sara? Build her nest. When’s she coming back?”

Most of the conversations between the bonobos and humans in Ape House are based on actual conversations with great apes, including Koko, Washoe, Booey, Kanzi, and Panbanisha. Many of the ape-based scenes in this book are also based on fact, although I have taken the fiction writer’s liberty of fudging names, dates, and places.

One of the places I did not disguise or rename is the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They take in orphaned infants, nurse them back to health, and when they’re ready, release them back into the jungle. This, combined with ongoing education of the local people, is one of the wild bonobos’ best hopes for survival.

One day, I’m going to be brave enough to visit Lola ya Bonobo. In the meantime, in response to Panbanisha’s question, I’m coming back soon. Very soon. I hope you have my nest ready!

(Photo © Lynne Harty Photography)


From Publishers Weekly

Gruen enjoys minimal luck in trying to recapture the magic of her enormously successful Water for Elephants in this clumsy outing that begins with the bombing of the Great Ape Language Lab, a university research center dedicated to the study of the communicative behavior of bonobo apes. The blast, which terrorizes the apes and severely injures scientist Isabel Duncan, occurs one day after Philadelphia Inquirer reporter John Thigpen visits the lab and speaks to the bonobos, who answer his questions in sign language. After a series of personal setbacks, Thigpen pursues the story of the apes and the explosions for a Los Angeles tabloid, encountering green-haired vegan protesters and taking in a burned-out meth lab's guard dog. Meanwhile, as Isabel recovers from her injuries, the bonobos are sold and moved to New Mexico, where they become a media sensation as the stars of a reality TV show. Unfortunately, the best characters in this overwrought novel don't have the power of speech, and while Thigpen is mildly amusing, Isabel is mostly inert. In Elephants, Gruen used the human-animal connection to conjure bigger themes; this is essentially an overblown story about people and animals, with explosions added for effect.
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More About the Author

I am a transplanted Canadian (now also an American citizen) who moved to the States in 1999 for a technical writing job. Two years later I got laid off. Instead of looking for another job, I decided to take a gamble on writing fiction.

I live with my husband, three children, two dogs, four cats, two horses, and a goat in North Carolina.

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Customer Reviews

It was a great story and written well.
KristiFL
The whole book just feels very weak to me, and lack of that connection that we readers are supposed to feel with the characters.
HSIN-YI CHEN
My goodness this was a good book and I really enjoyed reading it.
M. Lovin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

179 of 195 people found the following review helpful By Pasiphae on August 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is going to be difficult to review this novel without spoilers, but I am going to do my level best.

From the cover, it should be clear that this is a novel about primate research. If you have ever visited a chimp lab or research center, you know that most of them are not quite as utopian as the Great Ape Language Lab, where Isabel works with the bonobos. When John Thigpen interviews her, he is as enchanted by her as he is by the communicative apes. When a horrific occurrence changes everything, he is her journalistic champion as she seeks to right the wrongs she unwittingly encouraged.

Let's talk about what works.

There is no easy way to deal with material as potentially heartbreaking as the mistreatment of animals, especially intelligent animals. Gruen hands over the story to characters who are determined to do something about the cruelty. The reader suffers over the apes, but knows someone is working on the problem--eventually hundreds of people are working on it, and it gives a glimmer of hope in what could be an unbearably sad story. The animals in Water for Elephants were not so protected; it was a completely different time in America, and the reader will find herself both cursing and cheering the advent of technology as it plays such a role in the story (both bad and good).

Gruen can really write animals. They are characters in her novels. And though they are adorable and hapless, the apes are not quite as heartrending as Rosie, the elephant in the rundown circus, because the apes have language-they can sign and type, and broadcast their desires and distress. Rosie had only her swaying, expressive silence.
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91 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Shannon L. Yarbrough VINE VOICE on August 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Having loved Water for Elephants, I've been anxiously awaiting Sara Gruen's new book, Ape House, all year. Like Sara, I'm an animal lover and a huge advocate for them, so I appreciate her as an author. Unfortunately, I think that those who also embraced Water for Elephants, like me, will be sorely disappointed with Ape House. While it does present an interesting view on animal rights, and I think that Gruen was indeed expressing a lot of her personal and political opinions here which is fine, it lacks the magic and whimsy we experienced with her last book, and which created that strong connection with her characters and readers.

Ape House spends the first 100 pages introducing us to two couples. There's Isabel, an ape researcher in Kansas whose spent years of her life studying a group of Bonobos (small chimps). She is engaged to Peter, another researcher, but their relationship is out of balance after Peter sleeps with one of the interns. Peter is very flat in that we only see him when he's either on the phone with Isabel or being kicked out of her apartment. We don't really get to know him as a person, and we are only "told" about his actions.

Then, there's John Thigpen, a newspaper reporter who has just met the apes and interviewed Isabel. He's married to Amanda, who is the most interesting character out of all of them in the beginning of the book. She's a failing novelist whose written one book that didn't do very well. She's gotten over 100 rejections on her second book. She's also hot and turns all the men's heads. Like one of the men who are always checking her out, I was enamored by her story and wondered if the writer plot line was Gruen herself. Notice the apes don't play a very important part until much later.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful By R. Kyle TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Water For Elephants" was a magical read. That book had the capacity to bring together humans, animals and history and transport the reader into an unfamiliar world. Obviously, I'm going to compare every elephant and circus book to "Water" and I'm pretty sure most will fall short. Sadly, I'm going to have to compare "Ape House" to "Water" as well and come to the same verdict.

What happened here? Well, to start with, the book's titled "Ape House" but we don't get to the apes for 100 pages. Our introduction is to the human characters: of the four, the one least influencing the apes is the most interesting; however, I suspect many writing coaches would consider 'Amanda' a darling that Ms. Gruen probably should have killed in favor of the story.

When we finally get to the apes, we learn that animal rights activists have bombed their research facility. The apes are running free. Unfortunately, they get captured by sold to reality television creators who decide to make a television show about their activities. Doing what's natural to the animals becomes pornography to the prurient-oriented viewers.

The primary quartet of human characters fall short of their potential. Isabel, the ape researcher, is badly damaged by the bomb blast and is forced to undergo extensive plastic surgery. A fascinating storyline about character identity is sacrificed so we can see how Amanda is attractive to men. John, the ape reporter and Amanda's husband, spends his time divided between trying to follow the apes' story and hopefully recover them and staking his territory with his overly-attractive wife. Peter, the man who dumped Isabel is about as unnecessary as Amanda.

The story does pick up as John and Isabel desperately try to find the apes.
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