Giraffe by J. M. Ledgard

Stout, empty food dish, & silly human-book antics.

Why I Read It: Honestly, it’s because of the cover.

Where I Got It:

Who I Recommend This To: Folks interested in communist Czechoslovakia or early zoo giraffes.

Narrators: Pablo Schreiber & Jamie Heinlein

Publisher: Penguin Audio (2006)

Length: 6 CDs

This was a tough book to finish; not because it lacked beauty, or purpose, or simplicity. In truth, it was difficult for me to finish this book because of the ending. Once I saw where it was headed, the little kid in me wanted to set aside the book while both giraffes and humans continued on in somewhat blissful communist 1975 Czechoslovakia. Yet I didn’t. The story was too compelling.

If you’ve read the synopsis, then you know that J. M. Ledgard brought us a fictionalized account of a mystery: In 1973 the largest herd of captive giraffes were transported from Africa to Czechoslovakia, only to disappear in 1975 under mysterious circumstances. The account is filled with snapshots of beauty in a background of communist grey dreariness. Emil Freeman is a hematologist, studying blood flow in giraffes to better understand what happens to cosmonauts at high Gs. He travels back from Africa with the large herd; everyone has a special eye for Sniherke (‘Snow’ in Czech, and please forgive my spelling if I have it wrong) who has a gentle nature and a white belly, which is not common in giraffes. In Czechoslovakia, she becomes a leader of the herd, often the first out of the enclosure in the morning. The zookeeper and a young lady, Amina, both find stillness and friendship in the giraffes, which allows them to find each other.

All the descriptive language was made up of elegant, simple lines. From the portrait in words of the giraffes to the description of work in a Czechoslovakian Christmas ornament factory, there was beauty throughout this book. I especially enjoyed Amina, a young woman orphaned when her parents died in a vehicle accident, she lives alone and is a sleep-walker, traipsing about at night through snow and rain, often waking up with grass stains on feet and clothes. If you feel up to a beautiful tragedy, then this could be a good read for you.

Our narrators Pablo Schreiber and Jamie Heinlein performed in clear lines, giving the book a crisp feeling. Heinlein performed the voices of Sniherke and Amina, as the same voice. Oddly enough, Schreiber, who had the numerous male voices, often used the same voice. While I enjoyed the performance for it’s simple elegance and excellent pronunciation of the Czechoslovakian, German, and Russian words, I had to pay close attention to which character was talking.

What I Liked: All the quirky facts about giraffes that sprinkle this book; Amina’s namesake; the parallel between humans and giraffes; the humanity of all involved in the ending; true to life.

What I Disliked: While I believe this is a story that deserved telling, the ending was still hard to hear, being true to life; it was sometimes difficult to discern which character was speaking because the voice actors pretty much used 1 voice for all the parts they performed.

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