Tag Archives: a beautiful truth

Review: A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

Chimp Eden Sanctuary - Mimi
Mimi at Chimp Eden Sanctuary, Zaire – (c) Afrika Force

Can a book change your life? Or at least, change some fundamental way that you view the world? I would argue that after reading this prize-winning novel A Beautiful Truth, something has shifted within me about the way that I think about consciousness and the animal kingdom.

On a very superficial level, the novel is about chimpanzees, with three main story lines: a childless couple adopts a chimp and raises him as a son; scientists study a group of chimps living in a contained but somewhat natural environment, observing their behaviour and teaching them to use signs, computers, and image boards to communicate; and researchers carry out experiments on chimps in a prison-like facility, exposing them to viruses including the common cold and HIV.

But the magic of this novel is how McAdam weaves these stories together and develops well-rounded characters out of some of the chimps, characters for whom you care deeply.  It’s also the first time I’ve read an author writing from the point of view of an animal.

My book club met yesterday afternoon to discuss the novel, and it was the widest set of ratings we’ve ever given a novel. Some found it slow and difficult to read, particularly the sections written from the point of view of the chimps. One had issues with the “adoption” concept: why would a childless couple choose to adopt a chimp rather than a child, or simply not adopt at all. Some (like myself) confessed to crying during the difficult climax. But I think that all of us learned something. We had a terrific discussion about the issues raised by the novel around animal-based research, the level of intelligence (for lack of a better word) of chimpanzees, so eloquently exposed by this book, and the moments of absolutely thrilling prose.

Kin Echlin, the author of Elephant Winter, writes

McAdam’s language reaches into that mysterious place where a word ends and a feeling begins. A Beautiful Truth is a story about love and beauty and our dreams for our children and our inescapable loneliness. The characters, human and animal, are sad and honest and true. I could not put this novel down, and only when I finished it could I breathe again.

Personally? I gave it an almost perfect rating. I feel like I’ve stepped through some door that can’t be closed. I’ve explored the website of the Fauna Foundation, a sanctuary for chimps and other animals located near Montreal, where McAdam did some of his research. I’m looking for other books, movies, and documentaries on these beautiful beings so that I can learn more.

I may have an activist burgeoning inside of me. Leave me recommended resources in the comments.

Colin McAdam tweets  @McAdamColin.
Find the Fauna Foundation on Facebook and on Twitter.

It’s always perfect weather to read…

I’ve been keeping cozy with lots of good reading recently. I’ll share a few mini-reviews but first a fun bookish activity for Canadians.

The National Post hosts the Afterword Reading Society. In exchange for a free, pre-release copy of a book, participants are asked to read it and provide feedback by answering a short set of questions. I was one of the lucky 25 who were sent a copy of The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, and a couple of my responses were used in the paper. Anyone (presumably Canadian) can join so go here to sign up. Periodically you’ll get an email asking whether you’re interested in reading a particular book, and then you cross your fingers!

I’m currently reading Quality Of Life Report by Meghan Daum. Recommended by Curtis Sittenfeld, this book is funny and easy and like a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day. I needed it at this point, as I am just coming down from The Dark Road by exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian. My Goodreads review:

The Dark RoadThe Dark Road by Ma Jian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is a disturbing tale of life under the Family Planning regime in China. Kongzi longs for a son to carry on his family’s dynastic name, and he and his wife Meili are forced to flee their village when she becomes pregnant a second time. This work also looks at the issues around electronic waste and the terrifying impact of the significant recycling industry on people and the environment as well as the fate of families without residency permits, struggling to eke out an existence when they are not acknowledged by the state. This is a difficult book to read, but also difficult to put down.

Another recent read:

A Gate at the StairsA Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d had this book on my shelf for some time and wish I’d gotten to it sooner. Moore’s prose is gorgeous, funny, and evocative, often all at the same time. There is a lot happening in it, and I almost felt like the narratives might have been better served in a set of linked short stories. A lot to think about in this novel, and I’m still processing it, but my sense is that it’s about the blurry edges between good and evil. Lovely.

I’m very much enjoying listening to the historical novel Katherine by the late Anya Seton. It’s a big book (500 pages) and over 28 hours long. I’m about halfway through it, and got a good start during my travels to Ottawa last week.

Before that, I loved the hilarity that is The Spellman Files: Document #1 by Lisa Lutz. It’s kind of like a Harriet the Spy for grownups and had an excellent narrator. I’ll definitely be reading more in the series.

Next up in print will be the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize winning  A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam, my book club pick for February. And for a complete change of (audio) pace, I’ve got Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan queued up on the iPhone.

What books are you snuggling up with?