Title: Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo
Author: Vanessa Woods
Release Date: May 31, 2010
Publisher: Tantor Media
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Vanessa Woods was aimlessly wandering through her life when she met Brian, a scientist who worked with chimpanzees. Just one year later, they were married and living in Africa, working with primates in an effort to better understand humans. They began to work with bonobos at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in war-torn Congo, the only country where bonobos live. This memoir traces Woods’ experiences and relates the history of the Congolese people and the bonobos they share their country with.
When I first heart about Bonobo Handshake, I was immediately intrigued. I knew a decent amount about chimpanzees, our closest cousins on the evolutionary scale, but I knew almost nothing about bonobos, equally close to us. Therefore, I picked up this memoir, simply hoping to learn something about these primates, but this book was so much more than what I expected.
There are three main parts to Bonobo Handshake: Vanessa’s personal story, and how she grows and changes over the course of the book, the history of the Congo, and information about the bonobos, both in general and in detail with Vanessa’s experiences at Lola. Vanessa’s personal story is interesting, and I really appreciated her honesty over the course of the book. She doesn’t try to skew events or feelings show herself in the best light, and as a result, the reader gets a frank account of her life and her relationships. I really loved getting to know Vanessa and watching her grow and change over the course of the book.
The history of the Congo is shocking, to say the least. There are war stories in this book that made me stop to catch my breath; that made me want to cry; that made my stomach turn because of their cruelty and gruesomeness. I really feel awful that I knew next to nothing about the Congo before I started this book. It’s one of the reasons Woods wrote it, to educate the Western world on this beautiful country and its horrific past, and she does an excellent job of that. She delivers the history very well, in an interesting and personal way, and never allows the book to become dry with facts or details.
The bonobos were absolutely wonderful. It’s clear how much Vanessa really loves these animals, and it’s funny because at the beginning of the book, she is so skeptical about them. But they quickly grow on her, and she comes to adore them. It’s really difficult when she talks about how endangered these creatures are and how there is a black market for them. In the Congo, where people are starving, some see bonobos as a tasty meal. At the same time, though, there are wonderful stories in this book; the bonobos are peaceful and loving, and want to share that sentiment with those around them.
I chose to consume Bonobo Handshake in audio format, and I absolutely think it was the correct choice. The narrator, Justine Eyre, has an adorable Australian accent and a really engaging voice. I really enjoyed listening to her; even when the book was a little slow at the beginning, I never lost my interest in what Eyre had to say. The audio production of Bonobo Handshake is unabridged and runs just over 8 hours.
I can’t say enough good things about Bonobo Handshake. It was simply a wonderful book and I am amazed at how much I learned. There are definitely some difficult moments of the book, but Vanessa’s voice always retains warmth, and she has a healthy sense of humor which balances out the heavy parts. I absolutely adored this book and wholeheartedly recommend it.