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SONGS OF THE GORILLA NATION by Dawn Prince-Hughes

SONGS OF THE GORILLA NATION

My Journey Through Autism

By Dawn Prince-Hughes

Pub Date: March 9th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-5058-8
Publisher: Harmony

Revealing first-person account of what it is like to live with Asperger syndrome.

Although Prince-Hughes eventually managed to earn a Ph.D. despite her socially crippling disorder (a form of autism), she had a disastrous early life. She dropped out of high school and lived on the street, later earning her living as an exotic dancer. She attributes the turnaround in her life to the gorillas at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Unable to communicate or connect in any meaningful way with humans, the author began spending hours at the zoo silently watching a family of gorillas, closely observing their ways and their relationships with each other. She developed deep empathy with these primates, referred to here as “gorilla people” because in her view they fulfill all the criteria for personhood, serving as models of gentle care, protectiveness, acceptance, and love. Human emotions, long inexplicable to Prince-Hughes, became more understandable; she learned to relax in social situations and gradually had more success in human encounters. After a while she was hired by the zoo and resumed her education, eventually earning a doctorate in interdisciplinary anthropology. The author’s affinity with gorillas was great, and she came to see herself as a bridge between gorilla people and human people as well as between autistic people and normal people. By the end of her memoir, she has formed a loving relationship with another woman and together they are raising a son. Lest the reader assume that her Asperger syndrome has been vanquished, Prince-Hughes includes an epilogue detailing the huge difficulties that it still presents in her daily life. In a generally excellent debut, some of the author’s claims strain credulity: not all readers will believe that both she and her son recall the experience of being born, that she can understand the speech of a bonobo chimp, or that the gorilla Koko has recognized her as a fellow gorilla.

Still, this opens a window into the world of autism to provide an unforgettable view.