By: Andrew Winters
Quinn gains a unique perspective on humanity through the main character of the novel, Ishmael. Ishmael is a gorilla. And Ishmael is a teacher who communicates with humans telepathically. On the surface, this hardly seems to be a character who would appear in a serious book; more likely a children's story, a fable, or perhaps a bad science fiction novel. Yet Ishmael is none of these, and Ishmael is a strong character, with a powerful intellect and a serious purpose. The character of Ishmael needs to be non-human in order to be effective. Looking in on civilization from the outside gives him a perspective from which to criticize humanity without hypocrisy. To hear the oppressor repent is not nearly so effective as to hear the voice of the oppressed demand freedom and restitution.
As Ishmael opens, the author writes of a day in his life when he found what he thought a truly ludicrous advertisement in the personals section of a newspaper:
TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.
Investigating with the purpose of exposing fraud, he came upon Ishmael in Room 105 of a nondescript office building. Ishmael was sitting calmly, nibbling on a slender branch. Momentarily shocked, Quinn stumbled towards a chair. He glanced into the gorilla's eyes, and much to his disconcertment the eyes calmly spoke to him. Nodding in answer to an unuttered question, Ishmael spoke silently "I am the teacher."
In language of the sort one might expect from a well-educated man speaking with a friend, Ishmael told Quinn the story of his life. A large portion of it was spent in captivity, before a wealthy elderly man befriended and educated him. At the end of Ishmael's tale, Quinn was still somewhat befuddled.
It is important that Ishmael does not believe the solution to the world's woes is a return to a hunter-gatherer existence. It seems impossible that any attempt to solve global problems...