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 Democratic Republic of Congo, a country reeling from a brutal decade-long war that had claimed the lives of millions. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo's capital, Vanessa and her fiancee entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. She soon discovered that many of the inhabitants of the sanctuary---ape and human alike---are refugees from unspeakable violence, yet bonobos 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 Woods' self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings while probing life's greatest question: What ultimately makes us human?
Courageous and extraordinary, this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa is about looking past the differences between animals and ourselves, and finding in them the same extraordinary courage and will to survive. For Vanessa, it is about finding her own path as a writer and scientist, falling in love, and finding a home.©2010 Vanessa Woods (P)2010 Tantor
“A beautifully written journey into the tangled jungle of the human mind, it also brings us movingly into...loving contact with our extraordinary cousins. This is a compelling story, told with striking honesty, humor, and intelligence.” (Alan Alda)
"Funny, adventurous, and heartbreaking, Woods takes us with her to darkest Africa to meet our nearest relative, the nearly extinct bonobo. This must-read book illuminates extraordinary courage in both people and animals." (Sara Gruen, best-selling author of Water for Elephants)
I loved this book, including the quirky narrator, whose Aussie accent and intimacy are a perfect match for Vanessa Wood's story of falling in love with the bonobos of central Africa's Congo. Although I knew a bit about bonobos' matriarchal social structure and "make-love-not-war" approach to communal living, "Bonobo Handshake" not only deepened my knowledge, but made me care deeply about these remarkable members of the great ape family. Equally interesting are the author's descriptions of the Congo, which is the only place in the world where the endangered Bonobos live in the wild. It's rare to find a book that's both a good yarn and educational, and this one excels at all levels.
School Librarian, Cybrarian, Voracious Reader and Lifelong Inquirer.
This book will appeal to all who love real life adventure stories set in faraway, exotic places, particularly if the protagonist travels to do good works. The author is in Africa to study the little known Bonobo, almost identical looking to their primate cousins the Chimpanzee, but oh so different in several notable ways. Where Chimps are competitive and can be violent, Bonobos work together in peaceful groupings and use sexual contact for almost every type of emotion and communication, including with their human caregivers. You will fall in love with these quirky, delicate and loving creatures.
I love animal stories and was fascinated to learn about the Bonobo. I loved the author's sense of humor and compassion.
There is an episode where a female Bonobo develops a strong crush on the author's husband, also a researcher, and is hilariously demonstrative in her advances. Woods humorously recounts how astonished she is to realize she's insanely jealous of this competing female's attention to her beloved!
The scientific experiments that showed Bonobos innately cooperate with one another without being taught were fascinating. I laughed out loud at several of the passages depicting the sexual activity by the Bonobos: they have sex constantly with random members of their social group from an extremely young age, as casually as humans shake hands. And they not-so-subtly request that humans touch them in certain places as this is their customary way of greeting one another. Obviously this can create some awkward moments which the author, and talented reader Eyre, treat with humor and grace.
The author gives voice to per personal journey, the research she was involved in and the political strife of the African country of the Congo and weaves them into a meaningful look at human nature. If you want to learn about the actual research, this is not the book. The behind-the-scenes info given here is fascinating, but in this book the research unfolds as it becomes relevant to her story, not linear or conclusive in any scientifically explained way. That is not to say that there is only a little about the Bonobos and Chimps they researched! In fact, there is a "put you right in the moment" quality that is fascinating. Much of the story is, however, also about her relationships with humans, but fortunately she is insightful and entertaining in writing about this too. An interesting coincidence for me is that the author (whom I looked up on wiki just for ha, ha's) and her husband are now famous for research on dog behavior, which happens to be my line of work. How surprised I was when the husband, Brian, she kept mentioning turned out to be Brian Hare of the Dog Cognition Project!
The story is about the author and her husband's work in the Congo studying bonobos, but it includes the concurrent story of their dynamic interpersonal relationship and the tumultuous political and tribal conflicts in the country. The author presents detailed information comparing the very contrasting behaviors and personalities of chimpanzees and bonobos.
Justine Eyre does an excellent job reading this book. Her normal Aussie accent fits the portrayal nicely, and she does an excellent job with American, French, and Congolese accents as well.
This was a book I wanted to savor and enjoy over time.
Once you learn about these closest relatives of ours, you may start seeking to turn on your own inner bonobo genetic inheritance and will likely want to financially support the protection and conservation of bonobos through Vanessa Woods' website
It took a little something to get past the narrator's Australian accent. Whilst her Congalese and French accents were great, the Aussie was part Kiwi, part "strine" and part something I have no idea. I found it easier to get attuned by listening to larger chunks at a time. And yes, her almost French pronunciation of bonna-bow, rather than the author's bo-no-bo was a little frustrating.
It is however, worth getting beyond, for the warts, tears and all story of Vanessa and the wonderful Bonobos. May we all learn much from them.
I love that this book is not just about the Bonobos...it's also a love story, a history book, and a true eye opener. The narrative is wonderful and she really has me into each character just by her voices, along with the in depth description of each person, animal, and place. From the Congo to Germany to North Carolina. But no matter what, she never went far from the author's true passion , the Bonobos. I actually looked up other documentaries about Bonobos. I checked into Congo current president, yes it's still Kabila Jr. The book made me want to know more...I think that's a sign of a truly great documentary, book or video. If it leaves you hungry for more information or knowledge on the subject. Now I am going to look for more books by Vanessa Woods. Thank you so much to everyone who does so much for so little reward in this world. You know, I hate reality TV but I would watch a series on Lola. Hint hint? 🍏🍏🍏 (for the Bonobos)
Happy to read or listen to any book written by Vanessa Woods. She is fabulous. I just wish Justine Eyre was told how to pronounce the "Bonobo" - its is really annoying she cant pronounce the word - and I cant help thinking it will not make Vanessa and Brian very happy
The truth and depth - I used to work in the Congo and she captured the harshness and difficult of living and working there.
I would be concerned about her pronunciation.
Anything she could tell us and she tells us most - she really is a great person
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