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by Dawn Prince-Hughes
Three Rivers Press, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 27th 2006

Songs of the Gorilla Nation

The basic story behind Dawn Prince-Hughes' memoir Songs of the Gorilla Nation is fascinating: she explains how she grew up knowing she was very different from other people, and it was not until she started spending a good deal of time with gorillas that she came to feel a sense of companionship with others.† Only at the age of 36, when she had already gone through many difficult times in her life, and was already coming to put her life together, did she seek professional diagnosis and have her suspicions confirmed that she had autism.† From that time, she managed to get a Ph.D., write a scholarly book, edit another about the experience of autistic college students, and then write this memoir.† She writes with a strong conviction in the personhood of gorillas and other apes, and as a strong advocate for their rights.† Furthermore, rather like Temple Grandin's claims concerning the links between autism and some farm animals, she believes that her condition of Asperger's syndrome gives her special insight into the experience of gorillas.†

However, Songs of the Gorilla Nation is a rather difficult book to read.† The language is not technical and it is quite short, but the prose is rather choppy in style.† Prince-Hughes also includes more of her own poetry than probably most readers would want.† As she tells of some of the troubling episodes from her childhood, the book also becomes hard to continue because it is troubling.† She had a great number of social difficulties and she also had what might be viewed as obsessive-compulsive traits.† Her family was not supportive of her and she was very much on her own.† She started drinking when she was twelve.† As a young woman, she became an erotic dancer in a seedy club.† She was labeled as queer quite early in her life, and she later came to realize that she was in fact a lesbian, so she also had to battle the homophobia of other people. Her life only really began to improve once she started volunteering at a local zoo.

Prince-Hughes writes about gorillas, using both established facts and her own personal experience with them, and argues that they have many more capacities than are generally recognized.† Since this is a popular work, her arguments are rather sketchy and it is hard to know how credible they are.† She also writes rather sketchily about her own life as it improved, her relationship with her life partner Tara, and their son, their day-to-day existence and the successes she has had in her career.† Readers who have a strong interest in Asperger's or who have enjoyed the writing of Temple Grandin may be motivated to read Songs of the Gorilla Nation.

 

© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.