Monday, April 7, 2014

A Beautiful Truth

A Beautiful Truth
Colin McAdam
3 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"Judy and Walter Walt Ribke lived on twelve up-and-down acres, open to whatever God gave them, on the eastern boundary of Addison County, four feet deep in the years of rueful contentment."
Publisher's Description:

Told simultaneously from the perspective of humans and chimpanzees, set in a Vermont home and a Florida primate research facility, A Beautiful Truthat times brutal, other times deeply movingis about the simple truths that transcend species, the meaning of family, the lure of belonging, and the capacity for survival.

A portion of this book's proceeds benefits Save the Chimps, the world's largest chimpanzee sanctuary.

A powerful and haunting meditation on human nature told from the dual perspectives of a Vermont family that has adopted a chimp as a surrogate son, and a group of chimpanzees in a Florida research institute.

Looee, a chimp raised by a well-meaning and compassionate human couple who cannot conceive a baby of their own, is forever set apart.  He’s not human, but with his peculiar upbringing he is no longer like other chimps.  One tragic night Looee’s two natures collide and their unique family is forever changed.

At the Girdish Institute in Florida, a group of chimpanzees has been studied for decades.  The work at Girdish has proven that chimps have memories and solve problems, that they can learn language and need friends, and that they build complex cultures. They are political, altruistic, get angry, and forgive. When Looee is moved to the Institute, he is forced to try to find a place in their world.

A Beautiful Truth 
is an epic and heartfelt story about parenthood, friendship, loneliness, fear and conflict, about the things we hold sacred as humans and how much we have in common with our animal relatives. A novel of great heart and wisdom from a literary master, it exposes the yearnings, cruelty, and resilience of all great apes.

Dear Reader,

Gosh, how do I write a review of this book?  In many ways I was fascinated by the author's approach; it reminded me of something groundbreaking like The Sound and the Fury because it told half of the story from the perspective of chimpanzees, and I thought McAdam did a great job of conveying what he imagined their thoughts would read like.  However, in many ways that same innovation was frustrating and even annoying at times, despite my understanding of the use of such a device to help connect both stories - and to show the short link between humans and apes.

I found I enjoyed the parts that were about Judy and Walt best; the research institute parts were odd and could get boring at times.  And I did find it frustrating because I never did understand what a "plekor" was supposed to mean: often, the author fairly easily conveyed the meaning of the made-up words he employed from the chimps' perspectives, but there were certain word choices which I think were never fully clarified.

I also couldn't help but draw a (tenuous) connection between this book and the only other one I've ever read about ape research, Sara Gruen's Ape House.  I did enjoy that book more than this one, although I also felt that that one was a "lighter" read than A Beautiful Truth.

The book's startling turn really threw me for a loop - I hadn't seen it coming!  Well, I guess in a way I had, but it was still a shock when and in what way it happened.  (Sorry, don't want to go into more detail for risk of spoilers!)  In any case, once that turning point happened, the book kind of went downhill from there, in my opinion.  I think because it focused almost entirely on the primate research institute, which was less appealing for me.  The story line made sense, but it just lost my attention, for the most part.  What most appealed to me about reading this book was the disturbing-yet-oddly-appealing train-wreck type scenario of humans choosing to own exotic pets.  If you are interested in seeing that "up close and personal", this book won't disappoint.  Walt and Judy's story is a tragic one, right from the start.  But it certainly is fascinating to watch unfold.

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