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Captivity: A Novel

Debbie Lee Wesselmann

John F. Blair, Publisher
$22.95 hardcover
6 x 9     
295 pages
Published in 2008

Dana Armstrong is no ordinary primatologist. In the 1970s, she was the little blond girl with a chimpanzee for a sister, a participant in her father’s psychology experiment that sought to narrow the divide between species. Now, decades later, the black-and-white clips of Dana bathing, learning sign language, and throwing tantrums with her “sister” still flicker in classrooms across the country. Dana wants nothing more than to forget them, but as director of a chimpanzee sanctuary in the woods of South Carolina, she cannot escape.

Dana arrives at work one morning to discover that the worst has happened: someone has vandalized the buildings and opened the cages, setting loose a group of particularly dangerous chimpanzees. She mobilizes her staff to capture the missing chimps before they can injure the local citizens or be killed themselves. The sanctuary is already on precarious ground, and if it fails, the chimps—some infected with HIV, some survivors of experimental surgeries, some rescued from roadside zoos—have nowhere to go. The sanctuary is all they—and Dana—have left.

As Dana scrambles to determine who was responsible, pressure mounts from all sides—from local protestors; from animal rights groups; from the university that oversees the sanctuary; from an old nemesis bent on destroying her; from journalist Sam Wendt, who seems attracted to Dana one moment but exposes her vulnerabilities the next; from her brother, Zack, an overgrown child who shares her past even as he sabotages her future. As political and personal tensions rise in the human world, the chimpanzees have their own crises, events that Dana, more than ever, cannot afford to ignore.

Captivity is a unique, surprising world unto itself—a high literary work, a page-turner, and an issues novel all at once.


“A South Carolina chimpanzee sanctuary affiliated with a university provides the unusual setting for Wesselmann’s powerful second novel. . . . The stirring stories of Dana Armstrong and her family play out in unforgettable fashion. With empathetic insight, the author precisely observes both human and animal behavior.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Debbie Lee Wesselmann states that her goal as a storyteller is to keep the reader turning pages until late into the night. That statement should come as a warning label on Captivity. Once you start this highly original and beautifully written book with its fascinating cast of chimpanzees, caretakers and exploiters, you won’t be able to put it down until finished. Then you will want to tell everyone, ‘do yourself a favor and read this amazing book!’ ” —Cassandra King, author of Queen of Broken Hearts
“Wesselmann writes with courage and flair, willing to take risks most writers would shy away from—but she hits the mark every time. She manages to give us what John Updike has called ‘the human news.’ She tells the truth about what it means to be human.” —Robert Bausch, author of A Hole in the Earth