three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-GiraffeA sharpshooter. A biologist. A sleepwalker. And "Snow White," a giraffe. All of these narrators help recount the unusual (and true) story of how, in 1973, 32 giraffes were captured in East Africa and shipped to a zoo in Czechoslovakia. The giraffes lived there for several years, in the world’s largest domesticated herd. The mammals’ stunning, but diseased, physiques suggested the restraining power of Communism. Soon they were gone, however—with no official explanation. Economist foreign correspondent J. M. Ledgard imagines what might have happened.
Penguin. 298 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1594200998

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Ledgard is no ordinary writer, and Giraffe rewards the reader who sets aside skepticism to enter its hypnotic world. … Giraffe works as a subtle meditation on the consequences of restraint on man and beast and on a melancholy, landlocked, Communist-era Czechoslovakia." Karen Long

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Ledgard’s mournful yet lovely book evokes that not-so-distant era through a stream of overlapping themes, images, anecdotes, erudition and ironic humor, organized round an unlikely yet actual zoological event. … His is a bravura debut, a rich composition with suggestions of steelier Scottish organizational rigor below its mazy surface." Elsbeth Lindner

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The narrative unfolds with almost a dreamlike quality, in meditative steps. … And though the tale seems unfocused, it is never disjointed." Robin Vidimos

Chicago Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mediocrity and conformism are everywhere in Ledgard’s Czechoslovakia and, in truth, Giraffe might be even more effective as a novel if it were a touch less heavy-handed. … [A] moving allegory of suffering in captivity and a poetic account of the asphyxiation of spiritual life in a repressive society." Laura Ciolkowski

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Nobody is going to accuse J. M. Ledgard of lack of ambition, and in an age of timid and modest novels this is a virtue. The book is often overwritten and sometimes pretentious, but Ledgard is an interesting and serious writer, and his book remains in the mind, even if you don’t entirely want it to." Geoff Nicholson

Critical Summary

"I can safely say I’ve never read anything quite like Giraffe," writes the New York Times Book Review critic. And in this case, he means it as a compliment. Despite the novel’s heavy-handed political themes and an opening monologue that "threatens to cripple the work completely" (the New York Times Book Review, again), reviewers couldn’t help but recommend this ambitious work—probably because one of the dreamy first-person narrators is a newborn giraffe and originality always wins. Hopefully, this inventiveness will keep readers interested in the solemn, slow-paced plot as it builds to a haunting finale.