Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo

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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 fiancé 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 ...
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2010 Hardcover New jacket First Edition. New Hardcover with dust jacket, clean, tight, unmarked, (Fine with Fine Dust Jacket), Gotham, New York, 2010, First Edition, First ... Printing. 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 fianc? entered the world of a rare ape w. Read more Show Less

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Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo

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Overview

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 fiancé 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's 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Devoted to learning more about bonobos, a smaller, more peaceable species of primate than chimpanzees, and lesser known, Australian journalist Woods and her fiancé, scientist Brian Hare, conducted research in the bonobos' only known habitat—civil war-torn Congo. Woods's plainspoken, unadorned account traces the couple's work at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, located outside Kinshasa in the 75-acre forested grounds of what was once Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's weekend retreat. The sanctuary, founded in 1994 and run by French activist Claudine André, served as an orphanage for baby bonobos, left for dead after their parents had been hunted for bush meat; the sanctuary healed and nurtured them (assigning each a human caretaker called a mama), with the aim of reintroducing the animals to the wild. Hare had only previously conducted research on the more warlike, male-dominated chimpanzee, and needed Woods because she spoke French and won the animals' trust; through their daily work, the couple witnessed with astonishment how the matriarchal bonobo society cooperated nicely using frequent sex, and could even inspire human behavior. When Woods describes her daily interaction with the bonobos, her account takes on a warm charm. Woods's personable, accessible work about bonobos elucidates the marvelous intelligence and tolerance of this gentle cousin to humans. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
A bright, informative memoir of a young woman's first encounters with love, marriage and the world's most endangered ape. Journalist and research assistant Woods took a romantic plunge in her late 20s, joining her fiance Brian on his quest to discover what makes us human by studying bonobos, a species of chimpanzee found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The couple worked and lived at the resort-like Lola ya Bonobo, a former presidential retreat that is now the world's only sanctuary for orphaned bonobos, located in Kinshasa, the Congo capital. There, she grew close to sanctuary founder Claudine Andre and the four women called the "Mamas" who care for the chimps, and gradually fell in love with the more than 60 trusting bonobos. The animals, which look just like chimpanzees and share 98.7 percent of human DNA, have been largely ignored by scientists and the media, except in the 1980s, when the primates were dubbed "the ‘make love not war' hippie ape" after a researcher reported on their frequent sexual behavior. The bonobos-estimated at 10,000 to 40,000 in number-are frequently hunted for their meat. Woods writes candidly about playing with the animals while covered in feces and mango slime; squabbling with her new husband; and interviewing locals about the Congo's recent history of warfare to better understand her estranged father, a Vietnam War veteran. When violence broke out in 2006, the author helped her husband study the bonobos, who live quite peacefully compared to the more pugnacious chimpanzees. Their research, covered in Time and elsewhere, suggests that bonobos cooperate better than chimpanzees because they are more tolerant of one another, and because they play andhave sex a lot. Brian also discovered evidence of altruism, a human trait, in bonobos, leading Woods to observe that the primates share much that makes us human and may "hold the key to a world without war."The bonobos have found their advocate. Agent: Max Brockman/Brockman, Inc.
Publishers Weekly
Woods recounts her otherworldly experience of visiting a bonobo sanctuary in civil war–torn Congo in 2005. Stepping into the sanctuary, where healing abounds and the matriarchal community of bonobos has much to teach their animal caretakers, Woods finds her life forever altered. Justine Eyre displays her wide-ranging vocal ability as she slips effortlessly into Woods’s Australian accent, while peppering the reading with pitch-perfect African and French portrayals. Eyre recreates the scenes like a visual artist, nuanced shifts in her voice as planned out as every stroke of a brush. It’s easy to get lost in the story and hard to bring oneself back from this idyll. A Gotham hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 8). (May)
From the Publisher
"Don't think that this is just a book about apes. It's a love story, an adventure story, and a political education about a country that has seen more tragedy and inhumanity than you can imagine." —-Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592405466
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/27/2010
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Vanessa Woods

Vanessa Woods is a research scientist, journalist, and author of children's books. A member of the Hominoid Psychology Research Group, she works with Duke University as well as Lola Ya Bonobo in Congo. She is also a feature writer for the Discovery Channel, and her writing has appeared in publications such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa. Her first book, It's Every Monkey for Themselves, was published in Australia in 2007. Woods lives in North Carolina with her husband, scientist Brian Hare.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2010

    Bonobo Handshake is a Fabulous Memoir!

    I loved this book! I have read many memoirs, and this one is defintely one of the best. In clear, engaging prose, Vanessa Woods tells her story of how a whirwind romance with a scientist studying chimpanzees results in her arrival in the war torn Congo where she (and her husband) end up studying bonobos, another kind of ape. Like chimps, bonobos share over 98% of their DNA with humans, but unlike chimps, bonobos are peaceful apes who use sex to resolve conflicts, and with whom the author falls in love. Set against the background of the attrocities (both past and present) of the Congo, Bonobo Handshake is, as the title states, a story of love and adventure.

    Here is a great interview with Vanessa Woods, author of Bonobo Handshake: http://commitmentnow.com/living-a-creative-life/women-who-write/features/writer-of-the-week/feature/vanessa-woods-author-of-bonobo-handshake-a-memoir-of-love-and-adventure-in-the-congo-is-our-featured-writer

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Loved it

    I just happened to see this book in the store window after Mrs Woods had performed a book signing. I'm so glad I went ahead and bought it. She tells such a good story and very candid. You can tell she wrote from her heart about a subject she was forced to endure,but learned to love with all she has. She writes this memoir as if she's a friend writing to you personally. The only complaint I have,is that before I knew it,I was done and had to move on to the next book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2013

    To below

    261not including all the extras 36chapters 280 pagws in all + 2 plank pages

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2013

    How many pages are there in this book?

    Please reply ASAP

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    Fell in love!

    I fell in love with Vanessa's journey as she dicovers a profound love for the Congo, its people and the bonobos at Lola. She starts out unsure of what she wants from life other than her new engagement to Brian and accompanies him in his research of our long-lost relatives. I laughed out loud and have a newfound appreciation of our ability to learn about ourselves vicarious these beautiful creatures. Heartwarming, inspiring and compassionate, Vanessa seemlessly teaches you the history of a people and country full of turmoil and love.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2012

    Loved it

    Quick but enjoyable read about living with and doing research on bonobo and an honest account of human relationships too.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2011

    Highly recommended - read this.

    I loved this book. I find Bonobos are so fasinating and the author's prose was beautiful to read. This book reads like a novel and you'll be amazed at the incredible intelligence and life style of the Bonobo. You also learn a lot about the conflicts in the Congo.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 13, 2011

    Loved it!

    This is a marvelous book, educational, entertaining and fascinating. I couldn't put it down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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