The factual information Gruen presents about bonobos and their language acquisition is compelling; unfortunately, the...

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APE HOUSE

In this novel about a researcher’s devotion to a family of bonobo apes, the author of Water for Elephants (2006) turns her attention to another mistreated mammal whose intellectual capacity has been undervalued by humans.

Aspergerish Isabel Duncan has found joy studying the advanced language development of bonobo apes that have been raised to communicate in English and sign language. At the research lab where she works, the bonobos—matriarch Bonzi, outgoing Sam, adolescent Jelani, pregnant Makena, sensitive male Mbongo and baby Lola—are treated with respect and love, but animal-rights activists constantly protest the facility. Shortly after Philadelphia Inquirer reporter John Thigpen interviews Isabel, watches her play with the bonobos as an equal and experiences one-on-one communication with Bonzi, the Language Lab is bombed by masked intruders, and the Earth Liberation League, an animal-rights extremist group, claims responsibility. Isabel is seriously wounded. The apes are not physically hurt, but the university funding Isabel’s research quickly sells them to a secret buyer to avoid further problems. Isabel’s fiancé and boss Dr. Peter Benton’s nonchalance horrifies her, and she throws him out even before she finds out he’s slept with her assistant. (Gruen conveys to the reader loud and clear early on that Benton is a baddy.) The apes have ended up in New Mexico starring in a hit reality show produced by a porno magnate that emphasizes their sex lives over their language skills. Isabel vows to save the bonobos even if it means working with former enemies. Meanwhile John is fired from the Inquirer and moves to Los Angeles when his wife, a discouraged novelist, gets a TV job. When a sleazy tabloid hires John to check out the reality show in New Mexico, he and Isabel work separately and together to save the bonobos.

The factual information Gruen presents about bonobos and their language acquisition is compelling; unfortunately, the humans, who get far more page space, are a drag.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-52321-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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