This book was loaned to me by a friend, who asked for my opinion of it. Sometimes this means my “scientific” opinion, since I am a scientist. I earned a Master of Science in Chemistry in 1973.
My academic degree is no particular help in evaluating this book, but I have relevant informal experience. I’m married to an ecologist well versed in evolution, who taught an undergraduate course called “Animal and Human”. That course focused on the research of Jane Goodall and other primatologists. Our home bookshelf includes works by Goodall, Frans de Waal and others. I particularly like de Waal’s Good Natured – the origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals.
Back to the book… Eva is a 13 year old girl who suffers devastating physical injuries in an auto accident. Her (less damaged) brain is transplanted into the body of a young female chimpanzee. (No, I don’t think will happen in my lifetime, despite rapid advances in neuroscience.) Against all odds, Eva survives, the first (and only) member of a new life form. Everything about Eva is novel and much is unexpected – to her, her family and the doctors and scientists who made her treatment possible.
Eva turns out to be more chimpanzee than human. She feels more at home in a chimpanzee colony called “the pool” than with her parents or school friends. Their habitat destroyed by human overpopulation, all surviving chimps live in “the pool”, a zoo-like urban setting where chimps face one of three fates. Some are sold to corporations or universities for research. Others are kept in a zoo, for the (paying) public to see and appreciate them. The luckiest ones live mostly undisturbed in a private compound, observed (remotely) by scientists who want to understand their biology and behavior. Even that is not a “good” or “natural” life for a chimpanzee, and they have lost skills, including the ability to forage for food. Eva, the daughter of one of the scientists, played with chimps as a child and felt positive towards them. This helps her survive the shock of “waking up” in a chimpanzee body.
Eva wants a more natural setting for herself and the other chimps, and, against the odds and at great risk, she gets it. A chimp colony is established (in Madagascar). Eva attempts re-teach chimps “wild” life skills and to import a few human behaviors into the colony (tying knots, for example). She breeds only with chimps she considers intelligent and socially cooperative. She dies (of old age) hoping “her” chimp descendants will thrive in the future at a time when humans seem doomed.
My opinion? Highly entertaining. Dystopian fiction, however, is not a genre I like. It can be cynical and broadly antisocial (imho). Is Eva anti-science? Borderline. If you’re looking for “bad” scientists, you can find them. I don’t consider this a trivial issue. Not while climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers show up in my own community. If we reject science across the board, we humans are doomed, and may destroy other species as well.
This book was published in 1989. Peter Dickinson died in 2015. It is categorized as Young Adult fiction. Dickinson doesn’t talk down to his readers. If anything marks it as YA oriented, it’s the emphasis on plot (over character, setting or reflection) and the brisk pace. One category of YA is “dystopian YA fiction”. Eva might qualify. The future world depicted is overcrowded, polluted and gloomy.
If someone wants to critique the portrayal of chimps in Eva, I suggest they check the publication dates of the books mentioned above to see what information was available to Dickenson when he wrote Eva. I think, overall, that he did a good job.
Jane Goodall wrote Reason for Hope in 1999. She is now 87 years old. You can check her out at www.news.janegoodall.org. She still has hope.
2 thoughts on ““Eva” by Peter Dickinson”
Good review. I do not think I would like the book because the basic premise is so disturbing. However, young adults might like the plot and it is good to keep them reading.
Looking forward to Jane Goodall’s upcoming book in Fall 2021. Need reasons for hope!