If you read only one book this year I’m going to suggest that book be Eliot Schrefer’s National Book Award Finalist Endangered. If you read my recent review that you know just how much I loved this book!
Endangered is the kind of the book that sticks with readers – in the minds and in their hearts – long after the book has come to a close. It’s because of that, and the fact that it’s beautifully written, that I suggest you read Endangered.
I love this book so much, I knew I just had to (at least try) talk with author Eliot Schrefer, and feature him as well as his book on here. Eliot was so very kind to take time out of his very busy schedule to answer a few questions!
BookBandit Blog (BB): What was the most difficult part of writing Endangered? The easiest?
Eliot Schrefer (ES): I found the same scene to be both the easiest and hardest part of Endangered. It’s when Sophie winds up in a hut with a child soldier, Bouain, and must negotiate with him to recover her bonobo, Otto. So much is on the table there–safety, privilege, power. I can write scenes with lots of conflict more easily than those that are quieter, so in that way it was easy to write. But I also had to enter the mind of a child soldier, to follow his journey that brought him to where he is. And with that came empathy, which was hard to stomach. Part of me actually wanted him to get to keep Otto.
BB: From Endangered readers learn a lot about bonobos, one of the things they learn is that they are matriarchal. How did they react to you?
ES: It was amazing seeing the bonobos up close. Really transporting and mystifying and moving. You really do get the sense that you’re looking at a creature with admittedly less intelligence but just as complex an emotional life. I could have stared at them for hours. In general, bonobos have a hard time with men. All the orphans at the sanctuary I stayed at outside of Kinshasa, Lola ya Bonobo, had seen their mothers killed at the hands of men. So human women have a much easier time of it with them (which is why I made the main character a girl in the novel). I got along pretty well with them, though. I think it’s because I’m not an especially dominating kind of guy, and I’m on the lighter/shorter side. That’s how bonobos like their males. 😊
BB: Can you tell anything about any new and upcoming projects you are currently working on?
ES: Yes! Endangered has inspired a quartet of novels. The Great Ape Quartet will be one book about each of the apes (chimps next, followed by orangutans and gorillas), and a young person’s relationship with that animal set against the political backdrop of the countries they’re from. I’m hugely excited about it–hopefully I don’t get tired of primates!
BB: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?
ES: Be kind to yourself. Especially when you’re in the drafting stage, remind yourself you have all the time in the world to edit it and make it better later. I think beginning writers give up far too easily because they let the inner critic into the room too early.
“The more I learn about bonobos, the more I fall in love with their species. It doesn’t hurt that they’re so darn adorable. They’re also so shy that science didn’t know much about them until recently—as a result we thought chimpanzees were our nearest relatives. But bonobos are as closely related to us, if not even more so. And unlike chimpanzees, they don’t kill or rape one another. They have such frequent physical interaction that their family groups are incredibly close-knit and protective—and the females are in charge! The first time I saw a group of three young female bonobos stand down a much larger male who got out of line, I understood the real source of bonobo pacifism. When females have such strong bonding, their society has a caring police force, and all bonobos benefit. Especially the infants.
I hope that what will pull readers into Endangered is the appeal of seeing a young woman care for a young orphan bonobo, and then the drama of watching them make their way across a country at war as Sophie tries to reach her mother. There’s a lot of risk and a lot of danger, a true-to-life dystopia story. But there’s also a lot to learn about within the book—it’s an exploration of what bonobos are, and what that means for us as their relatives. It’s also an exploration of Congo’s recent history and a portrait of a very resilient people. Primarily, though, Endangered is the story of Sophie and little Otto, and the determination of a young woman to give a voice to a creature with a heart as broad as a human’s but with no voice of his own.
– Eliot Schrefer ” (Author Statement Provided by Author Eliot Schrefer )
THANK YOU Eliot, for taking the time out of your schedule to answer some questions for The BookBandit Blog, and for providing your informative Author Statement! For more information about Eliot and his (amazing!) book Endangered, be sure to check out his website!