Book Review: Songs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes

Title: Songs of the Gorilla Nation

Author: Dawn Prince-Hughes

Genre: Memoir

Number of Pages: 240

Rating: A

Recommended?: Yes


Songs of the Gorilla Nation is a fascinating memoir by a woman with high-functioning autism whose lived a very interesting life. Dawn Prince-Hughes wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome until she was adult. She grew up feeling like an outcast and became homeless for a while, becoming a stripper to make ends meet.

She was also gay and being an autistic lesbian doubly set her aside from her peers. Prince-Hughes’ life took a turn for the better when she finally got a job at a zoo and fell in love with working with the gorillas. She related to them in a way she was never able to relate to people. She ended up going back to college and succeeding academically, getting a PhD. She also fell in love and married a woman who she had a child with via In vitro fertilization.

When she was diagnosed with autism a lot of things started to make sense to her and it helped her understand herself and what some of her own needs were when it came to navigating social situations and getting overstimulated. This book was very educational and the author shows great tenderness towards the gorilla she worked with. There was a long section towards the end that was just about the apes and that started to drag a little bit after a while. I also cringed at the author making direct comparisons between the treatment of apes in captivity and slavery.

Otherwise, it was probably one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read, and certainly one of the best memoirs by a writer on the autism spectrum. It was sad at times because of the bullying and abuse Prince-Hughes went through. She was sexually assaulted while drunk as a pre-teen and was also the target of bigoted harassment because of being gay. She was also very honest about her character flaws and times when she treated people badly.

By the end I felt like I had really gotten to know her and I was emotionally affected by her life story. I was also fascinated by her descriptions of her eidetic memory (even though I don’t think it’s possible to remember being born, as she claims- I’m sure she thinks she remembers it.) Her descriptions of her early childhood and sense of otherness and isolation reminded me of Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams. This was a memoir about working with animals and neurodiversity yet it was just as riveting for me to read as a good novel. I highly recommend it to anybody interested in learning more about ASD.

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