I Am Stany: The Life and Loves of a Chimpanzee Whisperer by Stany Nyandwi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Out: February 22, 2022
These are the memoirs of a man who made a career from his ability to read and interact with chimpanzees. However, lest one expect a Gerald Durrell-style book filled with amusing animal anecdotes and witty lessons on how to build a zoo, one should note that Stany Nyandwi faced poverty and many a tragedy in his life that make this animal-interest book also a human-interest story from cover to cover. [Note: There are many chimpanzee stories and insights into how sanctuaries and reserves are run, but they are interspersed with visceral tales of calamity and sorrow.]
The book tells of Stany’s youth in Burundi, a country that would fall into a vicious civil war as he came of age and then got the first job that might pull him out of brutal poverty (into regular poverty,) working as a laborer at a chimpanzee sanctuary. It wasn’t long before the sanctuary had to be shut down because of the dangers of the war between Tutsis and Hutus. Because his work ethic and talent with chimps had begun to show, he was offered jobs first in Kenya and then in Uganda. Traveling with the sanctuary chimps would separate him from his family (a wife and children, not to mention his parents and siblings) during the worst years of the war, leading him down a self-destructive path for a time, but then things seem to improve. Always when one thinks his life is settling into a healthy stability, there’s a spanner into the works. Yet, the author keeps finding the bright side, and being saved by that positivity and his gift for working with chimpanzees, a gift which makes him a man in demand despite his lack of education or resources.
This book is an emotional roller-coaster ride, but throughout we are saved by the author’s indefatigable positivity and humanity – perhaps, the traits that allowed him to get along so well with the chimpanzees. I’d highly recommend it for all readers.
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