Go ape with “Bonobo Handshake”

Review by Dana Taylor

One of my favorite reads of last year was something I picked up on a whim at the library–Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo by Vanessa Woods. Romance, adventure, politics, and sex–monkey sex–Bonobo Handshake has it all.Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo

Product description:

A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes-who teach her a new truth about love.

In 2005 Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo’s capital, Vanessa and her fiancé entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA and who live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.

A fascinating memoir of hope and adventure, Bonobo Handshake traces Vanessa’s self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings in this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa.

Written with a breezy first person tone, the book is engaging, informative and ultimately quite moving as the reader comes to care about the small bonobos and their struggle to survive on a continent torn by strife. Woods achieves a pathos that Sara Gruen somehow missed in her attempt to publicize bonobos in Ape House last year.

If you’re looking for something a little different with heart and humor, take a peek at Bonobo Handshake.


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