The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery won the The Charles Taylor Prize for Literary non-fiction. Having read the book myself, I'm pleased that it got that recognition: Westoll managed to humanize the chimpanzees of Québec's Fauna Sanctuary, following them through their struggles as they tried to recover from stunted lives in labs or circuses, in a way that brought out the chimpanzees' fundamental similarity to human beings while making their distinctive condition evident.
This book felt like the book I was supposed to write,” Westoll said in the emotional aftermath of the announcement. “I used to live in the Upper Amazon basin studying monkeys, so this made perfect sense to me.”
Few observers had tipped Westoll’s book to win the Taylor prize this year, with most favouring either Charlotte Gill’s acclaimed Eating Dirt or Into The Silence, a large and authoritative volume on the early climbs of Mount Everest by veteran author and explorer Wade Davis.
But no one was more surprised by the win than Toronto’s Westoll, previously the author of The Riverbones, a memoir of life in the jungle. “This is the funniest thing about prizes,” he said, recalling his first, stumbling attempt to craft the award-winning story of a Canadian chimpanzee sanctuary. “You don’t get to see the writer when he’s starting.”
It wasn’t until he hit upon the phrase, “This is a story about a family,” that the project came together, according to the author.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary documents Westoll’s stay at a sanctuary where chimpanzees that had grown up in laboratories and taken part in horrific experiments live out their lives.
“The whole reason I wrote this book was to bring more awareness,” Westoll said, welcoming the publicity bonanza that comes with the award. “No one knew there was a chimpanzee family living on the south shore of Montreal. Being able to go around the country and talk about this is just going to help get that word out more.”