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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)
a well-researched, intriguing page-turner. The plot is thickly woven and absorbing, the characters so well-drawn I could see them in my head. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Sharon Kay
Another great book. Once again because of the title and description I was a little hesitant to read it, but because I loved Water for Elephants, and originally felt the same way... Read morePublished 23 days ago by Delta Rose
A really interesting story told with purpose and moral values but it started out a bit slow and took a while to exhibit what I see as the intent of the story.Published 1 month ago by My name is not important.
My kind of book - read for pleasure without too many "what/who was that's" - animal science stuff is interesting, gross beyond tolerance in one section. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Phyllis Stenerson
I loved "Water for Elephants" and I was excited to read this new book by the same author. I should have known that this might not be great, since I could not even finish... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Lee
Truly engaging, and to think it is based on her actual experiences! Awesome!Published 2 months ago by working mom
Ms. Gruen - keep on writing! I have a read all of your books now and cannot put them down. You do an amazing amount of research for your books and the details are engrossing. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Kate McDonald Meier
This is one of those 'don't put it down' books. After reading 'Water for Elephants' I couldn't wait to read another book by Sara Gruen. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Robin
Slow read; hard to get into and hard to want to pick up. Not nearly as good as Water for ElephantsPublished 3 months ago by Hockey5