4.6 16
by J. M. Ledgard, Pablo Schreiber

View All Available Formats & Editions

In April 1975, forty-seven giraffes were executed in a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town. There are no records of the event. This strange and beautiful novel tells their story from the moment of their capture in Africa, to the night when they are secretly shot one by one.


In April 1975, forty-seven giraffes were executed in a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town. There are no records of the event. This strange and beautiful novel tells their story from the moment of their capture in Africa, to the night when they are secretly shot one by one.

Editorial Reviews

Geoff Nicholson
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. I was continually reminded of Harold Bloom's remark about all great books being strange: Ledgard has certainly got half the equation right. I can safely say I've never read anything quite like Giraffe, and on balance, and it's a fine balance, I think I mean that as a compliment.
—The New York Times
The New Yorker
Conjures a world of fantasy and menace, balanced between dream and nightmare.
San Francisco Chronicle
Mournful yet lovely ... A bravura debut.
The New York Times Book Review
By any standard an ambitious and remarkable first novel.... engrossing.
Chicago Tribune
Inspired ... a literary descendant of T. S. Eliot's Wasteland.
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
On April 30, 1975, secret police in Czechoslovakia circled a small-town zoo and slaughtered nearly 50 giraffes, the largest domesticated herd in the world. To this day, the zoo has received no official explanation. Ledgard, a foreign correspondent for the Economist, has turned his investigation of the event into a profoundly affecting debut novel that will wake you up and break your heart. In dreamlike yet incisive language, he tells the tale from multiple viewpoints, beginning with the birth of a giraffe named Snehurka ("Snow White") for her alabaster belly. We also hear from Emil, a specialist in the blood flow of vertical creatures (humans and giraffes), who accompanies the captured giraffes to Czechoslovakia; Amina, an isolated but perceptive young woman and a sleepwalker (as, figuratively, all her compatriots are) who is deeply attached to the giraffes; and Jiri, the sharpshooter who must act as executioner even as he is told "this night has never happened." Initially brought in as a fantasy of social engineering-they will become Czechoslovak giraffes, comfortable with winter-the graceful and keen-eyed creatures come to represent everything missing in shell-shocked Czech life and in an ending that is more than metaphor are eliminated as a threat to the state. A stunning and richly thematic work; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/06.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Based on actual events, Ledgard's somber first novel tells the story of a few dozen ill-fated giraffes brought from Africa into communist Czechoslovakia in 1973. Thirty-two giraffes, to be exact, which here become 32 towering symbols for a grim, misguided Soviet regime. The story is told by Emil, a "haemodynamicst" who's charged with safely shepherding the animals, captured in Africa, from West Germany via barge across the Iron Curtain. The narrative becomes duller, with the imagery more gray, as Emil drifts deeper into Czechoslovakia. But other voices emerge, including that of a giraffe named Snehurka (Czech for "snow white") and Amina, a sleepwalking factory worker who takes a liking to the animals when they arrive in her hometown. Amina's sections bring some grace and a touch of magical-realism to the prose that's absent elsewhere-her discussions of her dreams and factory work (she colors Christmas ornaments) brighten the story even while they expose how glum and oppressive her world has become. The herd grew to nearly 50 by April 30, 1975, when a virus forced the authorities to approve a secret purge of the animals, and more characters arrive in the chapters that relate the nightmarish task. Their perspectives-of a virologist, a sharpshooter, a slaughterhouse worker-give the book a propulsiveness that's lacking in the earlier portions. Ledgard, a Scottish-born foreign correspondent for the Economist, has clearly gone to pains to get the details of this hidden communist-era scandal, and the book might have worked better as an extended piece of reporting. Ledgard creates potent, beautifully observed passages, but his metaphorical connections are obvious-Amina's no more a sleepwalkerthan her doctrinaire comrades, and the noble giraffes can see above the walls erected by the myopic communist regime. Elegant and carefully assembled, but hobbled by a persistent solemnity.

Product Details

Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

J. M. Ledgard was born on the Shetland Islands, Scotland, in 1968, and educated in England, Scotland, and America. He has been a foreign correspondent for the Economist since 1995. He divides his time between Europe and Africa.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Giraffe 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautiful, surreal picture of life under Communist rule in Europe. Very mood evoking and sometimes disturbing. Well worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
'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. Once the animals are ensconced in the zoo we meet Hus the animal keeper Amina a sleepwalking girl named after the main character of Bellini¿s opera `La Sonambula¿ who works in a Christmas ornament factory and connects with the animals in the zoo - especially the giraffes Jiri, a sharpshooter whose job it will be to shoot the giraffes once the 'contagion among them' is discovered Tadeas, a virologist, who assigns Emil with the task of collecting blood samples after the killings and the various officials of the 'Communist moment' who direct the secret destruction of the giraffes and their disposal. Each of these characters becomes so palpably real (though they are fictitious creations based on the story of those who participated in the actual slaughter) that their interaction is understandable and gains our empathy. No small feat, this, but that is the quality of writing Ledgard gives us. Ledgard repeats significant phrases such as 'the Communist moment' and 'we are bound together, all of us, by suffering, even more than joy' and mixes these philosophical and political messages with some of the most eloquently beautiful descriptions of the seasons and landscapes of Czechoslovakia ever written. He drives his message of the slaughter home but in a way that makes us feel as though this book is simply a novel and not reportage. The result is a book that contains memorable reading as well as a story that will disturb even the hardest of souls. It is a remarkable novel, all the more so for being a first effort! Grady Harp
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
If purely fiction Giraffe would be a tragic story, sure to touch our hearts. However, the knowledge that it is based upon an actual incident serves to make Ledgard's strong narrative even more lamentable. This listener was not only saddened but incensed. On a mild spring day in a small Czechoslovakian town 49 giraffes held in captivity were shot and dismembered. This was the largest herd of giraffes ever confined twenty-three of them were pregnant. The slaughter was ordered by the communist government, with no explanation then or in time to come. These quiet, graceful animals had been caught in Africa and brought to a zoo. The story of their capture and eventual massacre, in Ledgard's story, serves as a political parable as seen through the eyes of Emil, who traveled with the animals, Jiri, a shooter hired to kill the giraffes, and the most poignant observer of all, Snehurka, a giraffe cow. There is much to ponder in Ledgard's well crafted tale, and much to appreciate in the narrative voices who give it life. A twenty year veteran of New York theatre, Jamie Heinlein is an affecting reader, mirroring innocence. Pablo Schreiber, remembered for his film roles in The Manchurian Candidate and Lords of Dogtown, offers a well paced, resonant narration. These two readers are an exemplary example of the richness that can be brought to the written word. - Gail Cooke
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MIBNJB. Everyone is leaving. 3rdkid is sooo depressed. Please tell me you wont leave, too?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know right hey what grade are you in im a sineor
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi... my name is Kristen. I am interested. I have brown eyes, sandy blonde hair. I am 14. I am a cheerleader for the football and basketball team. My name is pronounced ( Kris-teen.) I love to sing and cheer. I am in 8th grade about to go in 9th. I love drama class. I love to eat sald and keep a good balance with my weight. I am popular. I hope that I am picked. ;) Oh and I love to party and have fun.~~~Kris
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did u know that if a girl sends a guy a text saying hey with 2 y's it means she is either pregnant or wants to have his kids? CAYLA
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am izy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never read this book but i love giraffs i got a giraff pilow pet it is so cute
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Get a life please no one wants be ur gf okay? So go find ur soul mate somewhere else other than the internet. Someone reply to #1zaynmalikhater if u agree that people should not be finding their soul mate on the internet.