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Ape House: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – April 5, 2011
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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)
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
The only man who isn't a sleazebag is our hero, John Thigpen (and Gruen has a little too much fun with *that* name) who may be her ideal man, but who I found incredibly wussy, as I watched him blubber, tear up, and bawl his way through the book. He's got a lot to cry about since he's married to one of the most annoying female characters in contemporary fiction, his wife Amanda, who jumps from one goofy lifestyle choice to another as if to see just how much John will put up with before he calls it quits. John, however, is the most uber-sensitive man in history, and willingly accepts it all, perhaps for Amanda's eggs benedict, which he romantically recalls in one vomitous scene. And speaking of vomit, that's how Isabel, our heroine, occasionally reacts to bad news. I felt the urge several times myself as I read along.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My favorite book used to be Water for Elephants, not any longer. The Ape House is funny, tender and ultimately satisfying, my new favorite book.Published 15 days ago by Jacqie Irwin
I never read author Sara Gruen's more famous novel, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, but when I came across this book, APE HOUSE, at a used book sale, it appealed to me. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Reviewer Dr. Beth
This is the newest novel by Sara Gruen, author of "Water For Elephants". In this outing, Sara explores the kinship of the Great Bonobo apes and the bonds they make with... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Nancy A
It certainly was different from any other book I read. Was not one of my favorites.Published 2 months ago by Joyce Sunderland
I read Water for Elephants first and absolutely loved the rich animal and character descriptions and immediately with a second book and was equally enjoyable. Read morePublished 3 months ago by ParaHarts
Fun to learn about the bonobos . Good story, and easy to read. Definitely recommend , especially if you liked the first book of hers.Published 4 months ago by BB