Reading guide for Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods

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Bonobo Handshake

A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo

By Vanessa Woods

Bonobo Handshake
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  • Hardcover: May 2010,
    278 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2011,
    288 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Do you think that, in general, humans behave more like chimpanzees or bonobos?

  2. In describing her relationship with Baluku, a chimpanzee, Woods writes: "He needed all of me…It was the first time I had to give myself so completely. But I didn't feel trapped or resentful because I never had a moment's rest or a solid night's sleep. Baluku's love was its own reward" (p. 5). Have you ever experienced this kind of love? How did it affect you?

  3. "At no point did [Brian] mention fondling bonobo penises" (p. 60). Yet, this is precisely what Woods finds herself doing to help her fiancé with his research. What would you have done in her position?

  4. When Mimi rejects her baby, Woods explains how "when apes are taken from their mothers at a young age and don't grow up around other apes, they usually reject their own newborns" (p. 122). Have you ever witnessed a parallel human behavior?

  5. "The biggest threat to apes isn't disease, it's the bushmeat trade" (p. 124). Considering our own culture's consumption of meat, is it fair to ask starving populations to forego ape meat because the animals are endangered species? How would you try to resolve this conundrum?

  6. Based on the stories Woods relates, do you think that bonobos experience love in the same way that humans do? If not, how is it different?

  7. After Claudine brings back "the latest issue of Marie Claire" (p. 194), the Mamas flock to Vanessa for her superior knowledge of celebrity gossip. What does this incident say about the way women socialize?

  8. Would humanity be better off if it were organized into matriarchal societies? Why or why not?

  9. Towards the end of the book, Woods writes, "So since I will never say this to his face, let me say it once, here, to thousands of strangers. We may not be perfect, but we are perfect for each other" (p. 233). Why is it sometimes easier to share intimate sentiments with strangers than with the one(s) closest to you?

  10. "There are plenty of scientists and conservationists who think every ape in a sanctuary should be shot in the head. They argue the cost of running the sanctuaries should fund national parks and protect thousands of apes instead of a few dozen." (p. 124). Which side of the argument do you agree with and why?

  11. After reading Bonobo Handshake, would you be less inclined to buy a new computer, cell phone, or diamond jewelry?

  12. The match made between the orphaned bonobos and the people of the Pô seems ideal. Can you think of any similar mutually beneficial relationships that might be forged between economics and nature?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Gotham Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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