Sara Gruen, author of the very popular Water for Elephants is back with another unusual book about animals called Ape House. This engaging novel introduces the reader to the world of the captivating bonobo apes. These highly intelligent primates share more than 98% of the same genetic makeup as humans.
In the story, the great Ape Language Lab is rocked by an explosion, resulting in the injury of Isabel, one of the lab’s scientists. She has dedicated her life to understanding, supporting and loving the bonobos. In the aftermath, the frightened apes run away and hide in the trees surrounding the lab until they are captured. They are eventually purchased by an unsavory individual who exploits the animals by moving them into a house and televising their every day life on cable television. Much of the story follows Isabel and others as they try to track down and free the bonobos.
What was most endearing about the book were the relationships the apes developed with their caretakers. Gruen’s obvious love for the animals and her research into their use of sign language as a way to communicate with the humans were some of the most interesting and educational parts of the book. My only complaint with this otherwise fine novel was a story line near the end of the book that almost derailed the plot, focus and appeal. Luckily, it was short enough not to overshadow the rich content and informational value of the book.
Hopefully, reading Ape House will pique your interest in learning more about these unforgettable animals. For further information about the bonobos, I direct you to the nonfiction title, Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods as well as the following websites www.greatapetrust.org and www.friends.friendsofbonobos.org. If your book club decides to read this story, you may find the following questions helpful for your discussion at http://saragruen.com/2010/01/ape-house-reading-guide/.