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Audiobook Review – Ape House

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Ape House by Sara Gruen

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I recently moved from Pennsylvania to Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas.  During the long drive to Kansas, I listened to the audiobook Ape House by Sara Gruen.  Ape House begins with an introduction to Isabel Duncan, a scientist at the Great Ape Language Lab at the University of Kansas.  The lab is leading a study of communication between bonobos (great apes) and between the apes and humans using American Sign Language and other communication tools.  During her time working with the apes, Isabel comes to think of the apes as her family and has a deep connection with each of them. When there is an explosion at the lab, Isabel is separated from the apes.  She is then thrown into a fight for her life and a desperate attempt to be reunited with the apes.

Things took a turn I really wasn’t expecting in the wake of the University’s reaction to the lab explosion.  Isabel faces professional and personal crises and doesn’t know who she can trust in her efforts to reunite with the bonobos.

John Thigpen is a reporter who visited the language lab just before the explosion.  After the explosion his story on the bonobos takes a different path.  John is a hero who has flaws but he is cheer-worthy.  The sections with John are some of the best in the novel, in my opinion.

Grounded in extensive research, Gruen has created a novel that really makes the reader (or listener, since I’m reviewing the audiobook) think about what separates humans from apes.   Gruen presents an ethical dilemma on the actions of humans and animals. Most people in the novel think of themselves as superior to the apes but they inflict pain and damage unlike anything done by the apes.

Ape House is drastically different than Water for Elephants, the only other novel by Gruen I have read.  Other readers who were fans of Water for Elephants should not be expecting another similar story. With that said, I liked listening to Ape House and learning more about bonobos. Gruen is a wonderful story teller and her quality writing made for an enjoyable audiobook.  And you can enjoy the novel, too: there are multiple copies of Ape House currently available through PBS!