SONGS OF THE GORILLA NATION: My Journey Through Autism
Dawn Prince-Hughes, . . Harmony, $24 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-5058-1
A trio of books on autism examines the disorder from the varying perspectives of parent, sufferer and professional.
In this affecting, thoughtful memoir, Prince-Hughes explores how working with gorillas helped her escape the feelings of isolation she encountered as a sufferer of Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism characterized by difficulties processing stimuli, sensory sensitivity and social awkwardness. Her description of the course of her condition is both delightfully quixotic and terribly sad. Prince-Hughes's addictions to the smells of purple irises and tin Band-Aid boxes seem harmless enough, but her inability to emotionally connect to other people has terrible consequences. In high school, she is beaten and harshly abused. Trying to cope, she develops a drinking problem, spends months homeless and takes a job as a strip club dancer to make ends meet. A lifeline comes after a trip to the zoo, where the author discovers gorillas and forms a bond with them that changes her life. These creatures see the world the same way Prince-Hughes does: "They didn't look at one another, and they did look at me, they looked at everything." She gets a low-level zoo job and decides to make a career out of studying gorillas. By quietly, calmly watching the gorillas interact, Prince-Hughes learns about emotions like love, anger, concern and humor—feelings she could never understand in the purely human world. The author's favorite gorilla, a 500-pounder named Congo, becomes more of a friend than a subject, at one point literally giving her a shoulder to cry on. Although Prince-Hughes goes on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, she still struggles with verbal and physical interactions. In print, however, she finds touching eloquence and clarity.
Reviewed on: 11/24/2003
Paperback - 225 pages - 978-1-4000-8215-5
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 128 pages - 978-1-4000-8092-2