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Giraffe Paperback – July 31, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This phantasmagoric debut novel by Economist correspondent Ledgard recounts the extermination of the world's largest captive herd of giraffes in a Czechoslovakian zoo in 1975. The story begins with the animals' 1973 capture in East Africa (narrated by Snehurka, the herd leader); then Emil, a haemodynamicist (a biologist who studies vertical blood flow), narrates their journey to the zoo, where the animals serve as entertainment for workers like Amina, who is fascinated by the giraffes and spends her free time with the silent creatures (they remind her of "a nation asleep, of workers normalized into sleepwalkers"). Other narrators come and go, including a virologist in a secret government laboratory and a forester/sharpshooter. Throughout, Emil ruminates on the ills of the Czech "Communist moment," but he is also this inventive novel's weakness, as he remains ungraspable and too much inside his dreamy, free-associative head. Once the giraffes are discovered to be diseased, their fate is sealed, and the novel's narrators converge as the government's secret plan to shoot the animals unfolds. Ledgard's novel has bursts of sparkling intensity—the giraffe massacre, told from the sharpshooter's point of view, is particularly wrenching—but a stronger cast of narrators would have better bolstered Ledgard's magnificent material. (On sale Aug 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Based on the true story of the slaughter, in Czechoslovakia, in 1975, of the largest captive herd of giraffes, Ledgard's meditative novel creates a textured allegory for the country's oppression by its Communist regime. The story follows a hemodynamicist who has studied the giraffes, and a factory worker whose somnambulism is alleviated in their presence. Both are entranced by the creatures' stately aloofness, and when the order comes to kill the giraffes, which are infected with a contagious disease, they attempt to bring a measure of humanity to the workings of the state. Ledgard combines fine research with lyrical style; his description of a giraffe's astonishingly complex circulatory system is particularly memorable. The use of recurring images—mermaids, a rusalka (a Slavic water nymph)—conjures a world of fantasy and menace, balanced between dream and nightmare.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143038966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143038962
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,600,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.M. Ledgard was born in the Shetland Islands. He is a political and war correspondent for the Economist and a thinker on risk and technology in emerging economies. He lives and works in Africa.

Customer Reviews

If purely fiction Giraffe would be a tragic story, sure to touch our hearts.
Gail Cooke
Even though I knew how the book would end, I found it nearly impossible to read the grueling accounts of the giraffes' execution.
Amy Levin
I didn't find myself connected with any one character, not even the main giraffe.
Cheryl D.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Lytle on August 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Those who did not live under Communism will never be able to fully appreciate the difficulty of day-to-day life or the way in which the state destroyed the complete Self - both physical and mental. Ledgard's book is a superb portrait of Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, a time former President Vaclav Havel has said he cannot recall with much clarity because of the complete crushing of society by the government and the Soviet Union following the invasion in 1968. The process known as ``Normalization,'' was anything but. It was a systematic and brutal program to wipe out any resistance to the state and produce a docile population. Normalization divided families, costs thousands their jobs or lives, drove people out of the country and still haunts the people today. Ledgard's book is a dry-eyed and gripping look at a ghastly exercise in Thugology - the mass killing of the largest herd of giraffes outside their natural environment - and a sobering account of a period that is not often explored, especially by the Czechs themselves. Expertly rendered.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Urbun Scrawler on March 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Since the synopsis has already been written about by other reviewers, I won't repeat it. However, I'll cast my vote because I want to counter the negative reviews and because I wouldn't want anyone, particularly fans like me of searing, stream-of-consciousness literature, to miss out on the opportunity to read it. I was moved by this book like very few I can remember, and I'm a voracious reader with only two requirements of any book I read: extraordinary language, and a story that deepens my experience in some way of being human. Not all books live up to that promise, of course, but this one does.

There are few books I've read that capture the profound melancholy of a people watching it's rich cultural heritage plowed under by the crushing treads of totalitarianism. This book does that and more: to underscore the fiendish power without a heart is an unspeakable slaughter whose aftershocks I felt for weeks after I finished the book. It made me wonder: what in each of us contributes to preparing the soil for a monster to grow, whether it's Adolph Hitler or a smaller despot closer to home? And how, after a monumental crime is committed, do we assimilate into ourselves the painful lesson so that we do not allow it to happen again? This book is an elegiac fever dream whose language, like a haunting score, carries you aloft on its forbidding current and deposits you at a shore that, although not welcoming, is stunning in its revelation.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Brian Guequierre on December 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
if you're looking for a page-turning, plot-driven narrative this is not your novel... but if you're ready to embark on a journey of exploration in human character, filtered through the lens of recent cultural and political history, this is a beautiful and amazing work that you must read... Giraffe allows the reader to experience the "communist moment" through first-person narrative in an engaging array of fascinating human and even inhuman characters... their voices ring true in the same resonant manner as the physical and historic minutiae surrounding the soviet-era Czechoslovakia throughout this tremendous work which transports the reader to another time and place, and as the best literature can, to another being and perspective altogether... a brilliant novel, based on compelling, haunting, and tragic actual events, these characters will stay with you, and your world-view will expand.
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Format: Hardcover
'GIRAFFE: A Novel' is an extraordinary, poetic work, a book by first novelist J.M. Ledgard that relates a tale based on a true incident and makes it seem like a feat of magical realism. The language he uses is staggeringly beautiful, rich in descriptive allusions, rife with political overtones, and filled with compassionate nature that usually comes only with many years of writing. The book may disturb because of the topic, but to miss the exotic pleasure of reading Ledgard would be a tragedy: Ledgard has a gift, and imagination, and all the prerequisites for a successful career in letters.

The story, very briefly, tells of the travels of a group of some fifty giraffes from their native land to a zoo in Czechoslovakia in 1973 and their subsequent slaughter on May Day in 1975. Ledgard wisely names his chapters after the characters involved, beginning chapter one with Snehurka, a giraffe who narrates to us as it is being born and who is to become the head cow of the band of animals being transported. We then meet Emil, a hemodynamicist, who as a scientist accompanies the giraffes on train and barge to their destination, falling under the influence of Snehurka and the wonder of the magnificence of these anatomically bizarre animals.
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