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Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris Paperback – August 10, 1999

4 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Zarafa was a gentle 19th-century giraffe, a simple animal whose life was dictated by the tumultuous times around her. From the African savanna where she was caught and tamed as an infant, Zarafa was shipped down the Nile--along with the meat of her mother and several hundred human slaves--to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. From there she sailed on to France, a gift from Muhammad Ali, the "Renaissance Barbarian" viceroy of Egypt, intended to distract King Charles X while Egyptian forces invaded Greece. As political ploy, it didn't work. But as ambassador from an exotic land, this odd animal captivated the French people for almost two decades, as she lived out her life as part of the royal menagerie.

Michael Allin intertwines natural history with a brutal chapter in the history of civilization, augmenting the clarity of both. This story of one docile animal contrasts sharply with those of the human profiteers, warmongers, and interlopers who ultimately decide her fate. But Zarafa's otherworldly charm also helps us to understand the intrigue that led Napoleon to bring not only his troops, but a small army of European intellectuals to study all aspects of Egyptian culture and history, in the invasion that sets up her story. --Lauran Cole Warner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The baby giraffe was captured in the highlands of Ethiopia and taken to Khartoum. She sailed down the Nile to Alexandria and across the Mediterranean to Marseilles, where she wintered. In April 1827, Zarafa started a 550-mile walk to Paris. She was accompanied by her Nubian handler, three milk cows, two Mouflon sheep, an antelope and one of the foremost scientists of the time, Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire. Zarafa was a gift to Charles X from the Ottoman viceroy to Egypt, Muhammad Ali, who wanted to forge a link with France. The gift was masterminded by Bernardino Dravetti, French consul, personal adviser to the viceroy and the first wholesale tomb robber of modern Egyptology. After 41 days on the road, Zarafa and her party arrived to a triumphant welcome in Paris, where she remained a star at the Jardin des Plantes for the next 18 years. In his first book, Allin spins an enchanting story of Zarafa's journey through the Gallic countryside?the first giraffe in France drew crowds everywhere (30,000 in Lyons). To place the animal's odyssey in perspective, he provides a richly textured background of historical detail, starting with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 and his "corps des savants," who were stranded there for three years. This endearing work will appeal to all animal lovers, and also to those interested in the confluences of natural and human history. Thirty drawings, maps and images not seen by PW. BOMC, QPB and History Book Club selections; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; 2 edition (August 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385334117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385334112
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I nearly set this book aside, unread, when the author started talking about his personal fascination with snakes. What was this all about? I am so glad I skipped through is personal information and entered the world of Zarafa! I was enthralled by the descriptions of Africa and the 1800s... I followed each step of the giraffe's journey on the map provided, never wanting it to end. The book makes an avid reader want more about the history and culture of the time. I agree, though, that the description of Zarafa herself and her life in Paris is lacking. I was quite disappointed at the way the story ended without more details about her life, her health, her diet, her happiness. Maybe more excerpts from the newspapers of the time, more personal accounts from people who saw her would have been nice. But all in all -- imagine being there at the time and seeing that beautiful animal proudly march by! And thanks to the author for all the research that went into this book! Incredible!
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Format: Paperback
In "Zarafa," author Michael Allin has the gift of engaging the reader in a tale he or she would not have necessarily selected off a bookshelf. Zarafa is the main character - not a king, conqueror or superhero, but a giraffe. As we follow this giraffe from the depths of Africa to cosmopolitan Paris, we get to know her as intimately as any human travel companion. Along the way, we learn about French and Egyptian history, Arabic customs and Parisian ways, geography, exploration and many other interesting tidbits. The book's only shortcoming is its sentimentality, but this is not of the heavy-handed Disney variety and does not detract from a most engaging, interesting, and enjoyable journey.
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By A Customer on April 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Delightful, charming, magical. The story of the giraffe will stay with you like a dream. An enjoyable and non-cynical fable about colonialism, the birth of the modern world and the death of wonder. I think the success of these elegant little non-fiction books (Longitude, Cod etc) is somehow very heartening. Long live the General Reader!
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By A Customer on October 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you are between serious history books, or if you just like to dabble in history & enjoy a curious story around which a broader tale of culture can be told, this is a nice volume. Allin is a very good writer, holds your attention throughout with a trail of trivia, all held together by the story of this giraffe. I read the book in a couple of days & have now went ahead & circulated to friends of mine who, like me, travel alot on airplanes. This is the perfect book for a long airplane flight.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Allin takes us on a Mike Toddian historical joyride, managing to leap gracefully from the time of the pharoahs to Napoleonic Europe (which is the story's focus) and back again. The central episode of this delight ful collage is the odyssey of a single (although for a time there were two) female giraffe calf which began in 1824 when the Viceroy of Egypt sends her as a gift to King Charles of France to divert the French from Egypt's excesses on the side of the Turks against Greece. Zarafa,though she has the title role, does not really appear for fully a third of the book, but her story is obviously the lens through which we are to view the author's canvas. Western Europe has entered the Age of Enlightenment. That means that the powers no longer make war and subjugate lesser beings for the usual reasons (fun and profit) but rather in quest of ideas and learning and other intellectual pursuits.Having ousted (make that beheaded) their king and queen at the end of the eighteenth century in favor of some sort of popular republicanism, by 1810 the fickle French returned to royalism and reinstated the very family that they had targeted in their bloodbath barely two decades earlier. Napoleon passes from military hero to banishment following a poor won-lost record. The French and other Western powers are newly obsessed with Egyptology and everyone has been happily plundering, brutalizing, enslaving and generally exploitingthe Nile Valley and the wonders of grave-robbing. Egypt itself is preoccupied with its own alliance with Turkey in their rape of Greece, although before too long Egypt decides to change sides and turns on the Turks. Enter Zarafa. Michael Allin clearly knows and loves his subject.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I *REALLY* enjoyed this book! Allin does a remarkable job of historical research, but he doesn't stop there: by providing many fascinating details of life in early 19-th century Europe and Africa, he fleshes out the remarkable story of this gentle beast and the humans so enchanted by her. Allin proves that history, properly told, is if nothing else a fascinating story. I am eagerly awaiting his next book.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved this book it was well written, well researched and incredibly interesting. The history of Zarafa, a little Giraffe that was a gift to the king of France, is more than just a history book. It has a very fairy tale sort of a feel to it. It's so well written that it even the descrition of French and Egyptian foreign relations seemed interesting, which is some feat because politics, almost by definition are dull.
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