Harper Collins, $29.99
Andrew Westoll, MFA’04
Buy it on:
Some issues are so polarizing and morally-conflicting that they’re nearly impossible to discuss without argument. When emotions, politics and personal values collide, hastily-reached and immutable judgments usually result. Animal experimentation is one such issue, but The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary isn’t strictly about animal experimentation. It’s about what happens next; when the animals are no longer needed.
In Chimps, Andrew Westoll details the months he spent living at Fauna, a rural animal sanctuary outside Montreal. He avoids taking sides and instead simply tells the diverse but invariably heartbreaking life stories of 13 chimps that have known horrors most people could never imagine. To him, the animals take on an increasingly human quality as their feelings, fears and neuroses come into plain view. Westoll’s conclusions may be clear, but he wisely lets readers make up their own minds about the morality of the issue.
Although Westoll was prepared for his sanctuary experience (the founder told him Fauna was “like a mental institution, a maximum security prison, a Zen sanctuary, an old folks’ home, a daycare centre and a New York deli during lunchtime rush”) at times it seems too much for him to take. But he continues to see glimmers of hope in the chimps’ eyes and applauds the sanctuary staff for giving them the opportunity to live out the rest of their lives with dignity and peace. Ultimately, these chimps were the lucky ones whose stories could be told.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is a gripping and emotionally-charged read and should make a lot of national top ten lists at the end of the year. Westoll’s previous book, The Riverbones, was reviewed in issue 24 of Trek, in 2009.
Reviewed by Michael Awmack, BA’01, MET’09