Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods

Bonobos are a kind of ape that share 98.7 of their DNA with humans. Chimpanzees are also very close to humans in their makeup, but they are scary. Beyond the age of 5, chimps become too unpredictable and prone to violence to be used in Hollywood films. By the age of 7, a chimpanzee is stronger than any human man. Vanessa Woods reports on some horror stories involving testicles ripped off men and tossed away, noses bitten off and disembowelment.

Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos live in female-led communities and are all about peace. And sex. Lots of sex, starting from babyhood. Every kind of sex, including lesbian, gay, intergenerational, missionary position and masturbation... they do it all. Bonobos prefer hugging, kissing and sexual activity over violence to relieve stress. Sex is a bonobo handshake.

Bonobos are an endangered species. The only place they live in the wild is in one forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Woods (who is Australian) and her husband (an American) travel to Congo to do research at a bonobo sanctuary. In a country devastated by war, they hope to learn secrets of bonobo physiology. Can humans learn to behave more like bonobos and less like chimpanzees?

Justine Eyre was an excellent narrator for the Tantor audiobook edition (8.5 hours). Be prepared for some very disturbing passages regarding war crimes against women and children. Woods weaves factual background information about Congo in with her feelings and memoir-like passages, which keeps the overall tone from becoming too heavy. It ends on a hopeful note regarding the survival of bonobos.

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