Sara Gruen, famous for her novel Water for Elephants has again chosen animals as her theme. This book, set in contemporary times rather than the depression era of ‘Elephants’, has at it’s heart the fascinating small chimps known as bonobos.
Sara spent time at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa becoming friends with bonobos in order to write this novel. First she was told she had to do her ‘homework’ and spend time preparing for her visit by studying linguistics and a system of lexigrams so she could communicate with the bonobos. She worked with two linguists at York University in Toronto who are doing ground-breaking work on communication with bonobos, particularly the Great Ape Trust family of bonobos.
Knowing that she would need icebreakers to open the conversation with the bonobo family, Gruen brought photos of her dog and children. The pictures of the dogs elicited no response from Panbanisha, a linguistic superstar, but when Gruen showed the bonobo a photo of her young children taking a bubble bath, Panbanisha, a mother of two, used her lexigram keyboard to respond “babies washing bubbles.” (http://www.thegreatapetrust.org/)
Ape House is the story of Isabel, an ape researcher at the University of Kansas, who is critically injured when an animal rights activist group blows up the linguistic lab to free the bonobos and broadcast their agenda. The apes escape and we are lead in a chase across the country to rescue these intelligent animals. I was thoroughly amazed at the capacity for language these creatures display, and found the book an interesting commentary on how we treat our animal friends.