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Author talks about talking to apes

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Sara Gruen fielded questions Thursday evening about her writing process, the parallels she has made to Biblical characters and her experiences communicating with a group of apes living at a research facility in Iowa.

The New York Times bestselling author of "Water for Elephants" participated in a book chat and subsequent signing during Gwinnett County Public Library's Gwinnett Reads event at the Aurora Theatre.

Gruen's latest book, "Ape House," follows a group of bonobos living in a lab that manage to escape following an explosion and become stars of a reality TV show, which prompts scientist and lab employee Isabel Duncan to attempt the rescue of these incredibly intelligent apes.

The book was inspired by Gruen's first visit to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, where she spent time with the bonobos living there, making friends in particular with Panbanisha, which Gruen described as the quieter of the two really language competent bonobos there.

"I knew that (communication with apes) was happening, I'd read about, I'd seen documentaries," Gruen said. "(But) I don't think there's anything that can really prepare you for the experience of it. Panbanisha on our last visit asked me if the next time I came I would bring her a Mr. Potato Head. Having an ape ask you for a new Mr. Potato head is a very different thing."

The recent launch of Gruen's book tour was held in Des Moines. On her most recent visit to the Great Ape Trust, Gruen was able to bring along her family.

"The last time I was there Panbanisha asked to meet my family," she said. "So I took all my kids and my husband came out and we got to spend most of the day at the trust."

While Gruen's latest novel prompted her appearance at the Gwinnett Reads event Thursday evening, much of the book chat, which was facilitated by local writer and columnist Rob Jenkins, and the questions from the audience that followed centered on Gruen's 2006 title "Water for Elephants," which is being made into a film.

To learn more about about Sara Gruen and her books, visit her website at saragruen.com.