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  1. It really is not possible to discuss this book and what makes it so fascinating with spoilers, so I'm just warning everyone that I haven't spoilered some important information. Also, thanks for Clavain for suggesting this book. SPOILERS FOLLOW. DON'T READ IF YOU DON'T WANT THE SPOILERS. The book is narrated by Rosemary Cooke, who is about 40 when she is writing the book. She starts when she is a 22-year-old student (in 1996), then goes backwards for awhile and, at the very end, forward in time. It's not as confusing as it sounds. The central issue of her life was the disappearance of her sister Fern 17 years before and then her brother's abrupt departure 6 years later and his flight from the FBI. Very early on, you suspect that there's something a bit "off" about Fern and the story vaguely reminded me of a review I had read. 26% of the way in (can you tell I read it on my tablet?), you learn that Fern was actually a chimpanzee and that she had been part of an experiment in seeing whether chimps could be raised as children in families. Assuming that the book is based on what really happened (and I think it is), there was quite a little cottage industry in these experiments and they didn't always end well. Chimps are, after all, wild animals and much, much stronger than human beings. For reasons that are not clear at all until the end (and maybe even then have been sanitized), she was transferred to a primate study in another state and Rosemary and her brother are fed some pablum that she's gone to live on a farm. When her brother finds out what really happened to his beloved baby sister, he becomes an animal rights' activist and after a long time, finally tells Rosemary what really happened. The book is fascinating. Rosemary has been raised by experimental psychologists and she spends a lot of time exploring and discussing issues that she's sort of grown up hearing about. She expounds in very interesting and natural-sounding ways about the unreliability of memory, the role of character versus circumstances in human actions, the differences between humans and animals, the fact that humans have become comfortable with animal experimentation because it is hidden from them, and how humans are particularly disturbed by appearances and behaviors that are almost, but not quite, human. Rosemary herself is one of those people who isn't quite right because her twin for the first years of her life was a chimpanzee--so she gets in her friend's personal space and her facial expressions aren't quite right, particularly when she is school-aged. And yet that's the most fascinating part of the book--she understands chimpanzee behavior better than anyone and she talks about it casually. For example, she explains that the big-toothed smiles of the chimps that were sent into space aren't smiles at all--they mean the chimps were terrified. She knew it as soon as she saw it and was shocked that others did not (the correct chimp friendly face has a smile with the lip over the top teeth--we've been practicing that at home ever since I told the family at great length about this book). I do want to say something about Rosemary herself. I just loved her. The way she talks makes her seem like a real person and her observations are usually very apt and often either very humorous or very touching. For humorous: She goes to college at UC-Davis, where it's very hot and says, " 'At least it's a dry heat,' they keep telling me, though once the thermometer tops a hundred I think that's just crazy talk." I agree and I bet Kerry does, too. There's too many touching places for me to just show one. Highly recommend. One of my top reads so far, but the one I'm reading now is going to give it a run for its money.
  2. Six people - five women and a man - meet once a month in California's Central Valley to discuss Jane Austen's novels. They are ordinary people, neither happy nor unhappy, but each of them is wounded in different ways, they are all mixed up about their lives and relationships. Over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable - under the guiding eye of Jane Austen a couple of them even fall in love? RRP: £6.99, <a href ="http://www.thebookplace.com/bookplace/spring2005.asp?CID=BGO733" TARGET="_blank">The Book Pl@ce</a> Price: £4.89 Just click on book jacket <A HREF="http://www.thebookplace.com/bookplace/display.asp?ISB=0141020261&CID=BGO733" TARGET="_blank"> <IMG SRC=""> </A>
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