Excerpt from Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Bonobo Handshake

A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo

By Vanessa Woods

Bonobo Handshake

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I did a double take. Men were uncommon in the chimp house. It was usually filled with giggling girls with hairy legs, like I used to be.

He lowered the book and looked at me. His blue eyes glittered through a mess of curls. I was acutely aware that I resembled something that had crawled out of a gutter. He raised an eyebrow that was as sharp as a crow's wing.

"Hi," he said. "I'm Brian."

He had an American accent with a faint Southern twang.

"What are you doing here?" I blurted out.

"I'll be working here soon, I hope."

"Volunteer?"

"Researcher."

"Ph.D.?"

"Just finished."

He pushed his curls back from his forehead. The way he looked at me could have set off a fire alarm. You are not to fall in love with him, I told myself sternly. And you are definitely not going to sleep with him.

Of course I did both

. . . It took two days to have sex with him and three to fall in love. Fast, even by my standards.

Debby took us to Jinja, the source of the Nile, where a friend of hers ran a guesthouse. From the balcony we could see the Nile flowing past on its way to Egypt. The chocolate-cake riverbank crumbled over the edges. The strength of the water pouring over the falls was enough to power the city. The whole place was a giant metaphor for sex.

Resist, I hissed at my erogenous zones, which were poking their heads out of a six-month coma. Everything about him, from his careless charm to his easy smile, made it clear I'd get more commitment from a stray cat.

"Ngamba is so different from what I'm used to," he said massaging my foot, oblivious to how wrong we were for each other. "You know I used to work in a biomedical lab?"

All inner dialogue screeched to a halt. I scrambled backward, appalled. I knew a little of what went on in biomedical labs and I couldn't believe he had slipped under Debby's radar. She would never let a biomedical researcher near her chimps. Brian held up his hands, as if to show me he wasn't hiding any tortured monkeys in his pockets.

"It's okay, Debby knows. I only started working in a lab because I was so nuts about chimps."

When Brian was nineteen, he went to college at Emory because he knew he could work with the chimps at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. On his first day, he went on a tour with one of the lab assistants. She rolled her eyes while Brian babbled about how excited he was to see the chimps, how they were the most amazing animals ever and he couldn't wait to hug one.

The lab assistant led him into a corridor. On either side, there were rows and rows of concrete runs. Each run had a room inside and a room outside that were connected by a door. Reinforced metal bars protected people standing in the corridor. Almost.

"Okay," said the lab assistant. "Stand here."

She went into the next room and watched Brian through a window. Suddenly, unearthly screams flew into the corridor, so loud they nearly knocked him over. Brian saw black flashes as a dozen two-hundred-pound chimpanzees ran in from outside. They were almost as tall as he was and their thighs were as thick as tree trunks. Their hair stood on end as they howled for his blood. They bashed on the metal grille and bared their teeth, drooling in rage.

The first pile of shit hit Brian square in the face. This started a volley of shit balls that transformed Brian into a putrid mud pie. Shit splattered in his ears and in his mouth. Then Brian watched in horror as a chimpanzee jerked himself off, slurped up the cum, and spat it out. The missile dribbled down Brian's chest as the chimp screeched maniacally.

The lab assistant brought Brian out, watching smugly as he cleaned himself off as best he could.

"Those," she said, "are chimpanzees."

Brian's supervisor at Yerkes was studying reproduction. During one experiment, a probe was inserted into the chimpanzee's anus, then electricity was shot through the probe to make the chimpanzee ejaculate. The tissue around the anus is extremely sensitive, and the chimps could bleed for days. Brian's job was to clean the anal probes.

Excerpted from Bonobo Handshakeby Vanessa Woods. Copyright © 2010 by Vanessa Woods. Reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

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