Read Giraffe by J.M. Ledgard Online


An astounding novel based on the true story of the life and mysterious death of the largest herd of giraffes ever held in captivity, in a Czechoslovakian town sleepwalking through communism in the early 1970s In 1975, on the eve of May Day, secret police dressed in chemical warfare suits sealed off a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town and ordered the destruction of the lAn astounding novel based on the true story of the life and mysterious death of the largest herd of giraffes ever held in captivity, in a Czechoslovakian town sleepwalking through communism in the early 1970s In 1975, on the eve of May Day, secret police dressed in chemical warfare suits sealed off a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town and ordered the destruction of the largest captive herd of giraffes in the world. This apparently senseless massacre lies at the heart of J. M. Ledgard's haunting first novel, which recounts the story of the giraffes from their capture in Africa to their deaths far away behind the Iron Curtain. At once vivid and unearthly, Giraffe is an unforgettable story about strangeness, about creatures that are alien and silent, about captivity, and finally about Czechoslovakia, a middling totalitarian state and its population of sleepwalkers. It is also a story that might never have been told. Ledgard, a foreign correspondent for the Economist since 1995, unearthed the long-buried truth behind the deaths of these giraffes while researching his book, spending years following leads throughout the Czech Republic. In prose reminiscent of Italo Calvino and W. G. Sebald, he imbues the story with both a gripping sense of specificity and a profound resonance, limning the ways the giraffes enter the lives of the people around them, the secrecy and fear that permeate 1970s Czechoslovakia, and the quiet ways in which ordinary people become complicit in the crimes committed in their midst....

Title : Giraffe
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781594200991
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Giraffe Reviews

  • David
    2018-10-19 19:40

    This book is based on a true story about a herd of giraffes, brought to a Czechoslovakian zoo in the 1970's, who subsequently became ill and had to be euthanized. The author obviously wanted to use this incident to illustrate some point of his own, but for the life of me I couldn't really figure out what he was trying to get at. The general critical reception seems to have been favorable. For instance, Nicholas Royle, writing for The Independent delivers himself of this gem (they should take away his reviewing licence):"I'm going to stick my neck out and call it a masterpiece."Alex Gibbons, of the New Statesman, is a bit more cautious, calling it "a work of obvious passion and great skill". Which suggests to that maybe Alex didn't quite know what to make of it.I wanted to like this book more (because, you know, giraffes). But its oddness, and the author's tendency to engage in vague meanderings, reminiscent of Kundera on a bad day, made me not like it all that much.

  • Unbridled
    2018-11-16 01:44

    Overall, there is nothing inherently wrong with the prose, though I must admit to scoffing early when he described an "azure" sky and the color of blood as "crimson." The prose can be mannered, superficial, and cold, which is probably the author's intent – use of the monochrome to evoke numb and dreamy characters wandering through a sterile, meager, Communist state (never heard that one before!). There were many small things I did not like: like the four or five first person voices (including a giraffe), all of which sounded like the same narrator; or the psychic gypsy lady scene (unintentionally laughable); or amateurish dream sequences (literary onanism); none of this is drastically offensive. But there's something else, something invasive, like an acrid odor, which I can only approach obliquely: I think the book means to be a novel, desperately wants to be a novel, does its best impression of a novel, but, in the end, feels like an "inauthentic" novel – as if it is instead the palimpsest of another kind of writer, not a novelist, the etchings over what was once a novel, now lost. The author, as I would learn in the dust jacket, is a journalist – and lo, behold my answer. Once I learned the book was based upon a "true story" (also from the dust jacket), it became difficult to finish the book – not because I knew what would happen but because the writer was better suited to reporting this story as straight journalism rather than imagining the unknowns into fiction. Am I suggesting a journalist cannot make a good novelist? Of course not. But what I am suggesting, is that not every kind of professional writer makes a good novelist.

  • M. Sarki
    2018-10-17 20:26

    Hard to say much of anything about this novel. Perhaps I should mention the great amount of blood, the violence done to innocent animals, the lives spent as a pathetic worker in a communist country. Orders given and initiated. The only comparison to Sebald I might make is the denial present in the people responsible for carrying out their orders and those subjected to these harsh realities. Part of the European condition that Sebald so adroitly and mechanically insists upon on nearly every page. But this book in no way measures up to Sebaldian prose. I am not sure why it was even written. Gratuitous massacres do not impress on me anything but disgust for those who must. And the endgame for me results in a further reckoning that the fiction behind it all is best served as only a skilled Cormac can.

  • Amanda
    2018-11-13 23:35

    Finally!! I encountered this book in the bookstore and then forgot any other details about it except that it sounded fascinating. I kept google searching "giraffe massacre" but couldn't find it. Today the search worked, which must mean I got my memories mixed up and have been searching "elephant massacre" or maybe "alligator massacre" all this time. :-p Glad to be able to put it on my reading list. P.S. I don't intend to read the kindle edition.

  • Lindsey
    2018-11-15 19:34

    he beauty of this book is in its details: the elongated pages, the specifics of the characters' lives, and the realism of the setting, but the imaginative prose, so gorgeous in places that it brought tears to my eyes, is what makes it such an astounding novel. The story is at once a novel about animal rights, a meditation on captivity, a political vehicle, and a poem, the intricate themes woven by the distinct voices of several narrators, including a giraffe. The introduction of new narrators was often ingenious, with the dream sequences of one character blending into the waking thoughts of someone new. Amina's voice was particularly compelling in exploring Ledgard's idea of a population of sleepwalkers ready to accept anything without question, without choices to do otherwise, and her dream sequences were breathtaking. I also really loved the first chapter narrated by Jiri, a sharpshooter, and I loved Emil's constant references to fairy tale, folklore, and innocence. Ledgard is uncovering a mystery of the true story behind the slaying of the world's largest captive herd of giraffes, but more than that, he is unveiling the lives of those living behind the Iron Curtain of communist Czechoslovakia. You sleepwalk through the novel, right along with the characters, until a conclusion so extremely graphic as to be truly traumatic for the reader. I would caution readers who are sensitive to violence or animal cruelty to find another novel, although for myself the prose throughout the rest of the novel made it worth the upsetting end.

  • Meg
    2018-10-19 02:54

    I was almost dreading reading this book after seeing all the reviews of it on this site. I'm glad I toughed it out; I really liked it! Yes, it does center around a brutal and perhaps unnecessary tragedy. So don't read this novel if you're only interested in happy endings. If, however, you are able to handle gritty reality (which seems even that much grittier, that much more real behind the Iron Curtain), then I strongly recommend this book. The prose was beautiful, poetic even, though becoming appropriately more straightforward and clinical at the climax. I especially liked its air of oral tradition and story-telling, and the myths, dreams, and memories peppered throughout.

  • Isa K.
    2018-11-07 20:43

    This is one of my favorite books. I read it just before I moved to the Czech Republic in fact so it's a part of my warm and fuzzy memories of that time. Essentially it's a tale of innocence lost in Czechoslovakia at a time when the ruling Soviets would find an excuse to destroy anything that gave common people a sense of uniqueness and joy outside of the party. Based on a true story, the characters are fictional I believe but the giraffes and what ultimately happened to them is true.

  • Kathryn
    2018-10-26 23:26

    Poetic and moving, but also heartbreaking. I love how it portrays the beauty and majesty of life in all its forms, and the nobility of the quiet giraffe. I really enjoyed how it is narrated from different perspectives (of animals and people). It just left me wishing that everyone in the book could read everyone else's chapters and understand one another better. An incredibly moving story, and very sad.

  • Sarah
    2018-11-16 23:52

    I read this because giraffes are currently my favorite animal. The book starts with the point of view of Snehurka (Snow White), a giraffe, who is plucked from her native lands to be relocated to a zoo in Eastern Europe. The book then proceeds to tell us why a group of over thirty (maybe forty?) giraffes were slaughtered. It's tragic, but fascinating. And it's based on the actual slaughter of the giraffes, and the reasons, as far as the author could find, are what really happened.

  • Annie
    2018-10-18 02:44

    This book is so fucked up that when I tell people the plot they think I'm telling them about a dream I had. It is disturbing. It gave me nightmares so vivid that I swore off books for 2 weeks.You should still read it. I have vivid dreams anyway, so it may not have just been the book.Really, this is a bizarre little story that is neat to have hidden away in a corner of your brain.

  • Derek
    2018-11-01 02:51

    great read, I discuss it at the bottom of this dispatch

  • Laia Bárber
    2018-11-07 01:55

    Como corresponsal para el Economist en Europa Central, J M Ledgard, periodista escocés, leyó por casualidad una escueta noticia en un periódico checo sobre la primera filmación del nacimiento de una jirafa. El artículo aseguraba que la grabación desapareció de los archivos de la televisora estatal después de que la policía secreta eliminara a todas las jirafas del zoológico. Tiempo después, en un pub de Bohemia, un antiguo policía secreto confirmó a Ledgard la noticia y le aseguró que la matanza seguía siendo secreto de estado. Mientras en Afganistán Ledgard se afanaba en vano tras la pista de Osama bin Laden, comenzó a escribir su primera novela: Giraffe. “Deseaba descifrar los hechos, pero más aún los sentimientos”, declaró en una entrevista realizada por Penguin Group. “Busqué a los involucrados, encargados del zoológico, veterinarios, antiguos oficiales de la policía secreta, carniceros, disidentes y especialistas en guerra-biológica”. Giraffe es la historia verdadera de un experimento del estado totalitario que en 1975 terminó en tragedia cuando la manada más grande de jirafas en cautiverio fue exterminada en la República Socialista de Checoslovaquia por órdenes del Politburo. La captura y transportación desde África, así como la intensión de criar una subespecie a la que llamaría Camelopardallis Bohémica fue una utopía del ideal socialista, en cuyo espíritu prevalecía la ambición por producir en masa lo que fuera, “…our socialist mind is good for breeding”, salvo libertad. El ‘momento comunista’, como lo llaman los protagonistas, sirve a Ledgard para construir el ánimo regente de una nación que conmueve desde el sufrimiento. No únicamente a raíz de la ocupación nazi, sino a partir de hechos históricos que desde el pasado atormentan a su gente, como fue la peste de 1713, la guerra de los treinta años y las guerras napoleónicas. El autor se sirve del fenómeno del sonambulismo de Amina, una joven obrera, en una nación de obreros, para elaborar la parálisis del individuo. Consciente de la pandemia Amina afirma: “This is a country of sleepwalkers by day, who drink by night only as a lesser form of sleepwalking”; y sobre la mentalidad cautiva asegura: “I know a cage is something which admits air and light, but no escape”. Emil, protagonista de la elegía, es especialista en hemodinámica, una rama de la física dedicada al estudio del flujo sanguíneo en animales verticales. Snĕhurca, la jirafa líder de la manada, narra su nacimiento en África lo que añade al texto una tono fabular. El nombre de Snĕhurca que en checo quiere decir Blanca Nieves, impone al lector el reto de encontrar a los siete enanos del reparto. Asimismo, tanto por el carácter pastoril, “I step off the beanstalk onto the land, which is made of clouds – is a cloudscape, not a landscape”; como por el fantástico, la obra detenta gran fuerza lírica, “Blood is not open to the sky, it’s journey is a hidden flow, is without light…”.Conviene aguzar el oído para percibir las resonancias históricas que con sutileza quirúrgica provoca el autor. Compelido a aportar imágenes de holocaustos, exterminios, ocupaciones y cautiverios de bestias y hombres, el lector se convierte en coautor. La “Solución Final” que impuso a los nazis una logística complicada, subyace entre otros funestos momentos del pasado, cuando el exterminio de animales de entre 800 y 1600 kg presenta sombrías dificultades al personal del zoológico.Por ser una metáfora lúcida del absurdo, Giraffe es una gema rara, despiadada en la denuncia de la falibilidad de un sistema totalitario y profunda en la contemplación de una búsqueda espiritual. —The communist moment does not demand that I love it, or be awake to it. It asks only that I do not question it —dice Amina. Si el ojo de la jirafa es el más grande en el reino animal y la pasividad, un cariz del mal, hechos que Ledgard enfatiza a lo largo de la novela, “…a giraffe sees the present before any other animal”: ¿en qué convertirán las nuevas generaciones la caída de la Cortina de Hierro? In memoriam M H Thatcher

  • Marty
    2018-10-24 21:46

    I had a very mixed reaction to this book. The plot is an interesting one: it's based on a real event: the killing of a large herd of giraffes in a Czechoslovakian zoo in the mid 1970's. The reason for this slaughter has never completely been revealed. Even with this premise, the first half of this book was a chore to read. I'm all for setting the stage for a drama, but that drama seemed to be unnecessarily long in developing here. The story shifts back and forth between a young hematologist, a young female factory worker, a forester and a laboratory scientist, as well as workers in a slaughterhouse. Even the largest female giraffe, called Snehurka, is briefly given a voice. The problem is that most of the human characters aren't terribly fleshed out. Worse yet, they spend their time discussing, indirectly and ponderously, how Communism isn't all it's cracked up to be - in short, beating an already very dead horse. The novel improves once the problem of disease among the giraffes arises. The pace picks up and the tension level rises quickly, which is why I don't consider this book to be a complete loss. I'll be interested to read Ledgard's newest novel to see how it compares.

  • Mathijs Beaujean
    2018-11-15 20:46

    On the basis that this book was "OK", I should give it only two stars. But seeing as on a normal 5-star system the third star is the one that is only barely positive: three stars.Why this mediocre rating?The story in itself is a nice one. Even though I was expecting the outcome from the first chapter (but that's just me being a veterinarian and familiar with the 'red line' in South Africa), I was still motivated to read to the end of the book. Barely.The problem with this book is the quasy intellectual meanderings of the writer. The metaphors are so obvious and numerous that it forced me to shut down those parts of my brain (created by those evil teachers in high school) from analyzing them and thereby grinding the pace of the story to a halt.I do not like forcing parts of my brain to shut down.If you need a book to analyze for a literature class I can highly recommend it. Otherwise I would only suggest you read this if interested in the Sovjet era, or interested in the history of One Health.

  • Susan
    2018-11-11 23:41

    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.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.

  • LisaCarlson
    2018-11-12 00:44

    The reason I'm drawn to J.M. Ledgard's writing is not only the use of multiple narratives, beautiful command of the language but it's also his journalistic background. While I read his second novel Submergence first thisnovel gives the reader the same sustained euphoric feeling using a true story to lay the foundation this time. The story of the largest herd of Giraffes held in captivity in Czechoslovakia and their sudden death. True animal lovers will appreciate the wonderful opening and we are guided through the story by several other human characters which illuminate a country, a time and a lifestyle uniquely rich in simplicity and verve. It's just under 300 pages and as with anything Ledgard writes the reader will be moved in ways they never imagined. Bravo!

  • itpdx
    2018-11-01 20:35

    Haunting. This is a fictional account of a true incident. A large number of giraffes were captured and transported to a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town in the early 70's during the "Communist moment". Later they were slaughtered under the direction of the secret police. The book is told from the view points of a number of the people who came in contact with the silent giraffes. It is like a mood piece. There is a lot of symbolism in the book. And I am sure I missed most of it.I would have liked a companion essay about the author's journey of finding the people involved and what he learned from them.

  • Cat
    2018-11-12 22:37

    Overall, I think this book is pretty good. Ledgard tells this story through the narratives of several different characters. Many of them are interesting and relatable. He devotes about a third of the book to the character, Emil. Unfortunately, I had a difficult time following Emil's thought someone with ADD. That coupled with my need to warm up to the language that Ledgard uses made the first one hundred pages a bit of a struggle. Also, I feel like Ledgard assumes his readers already have a basic knowledge of Czechoslovakia, both historical as well as geographical. Until the events of the story were able to settle into one location, I felt lost.

  • Alex
    2018-10-22 21:38

    i picked this up at the library because i was intrigued by the cover. it ended up being a remarkable read. the plot is a fictional account of true events-- giraffes are taken from africa to a soviet state's zoo to create "the largest captive herd in the world." it weaves back and forth between several points-of-view (including that of the giraffes!) it's somewhat depressing (as would be any story that ends the way it does) but it is very moving, thought-provoking, metaphorically rich and a good read.

  • Raven
    2018-10-29 01:43

    In 1975 the worlds largest captive herd of Giraffes was destroyed. This novel follows the giraffes from when they were captured to their final destination in Czechoslovakia. This actually happened and knowing that it makes it quite a depressing story to read. It's also told through the eyes of several characters (all real characters) including one of the giraffes, which I think is what drew me to it in the first place. I found the style of it a bit hard to read sometimes but all in all it was pretty good, depressing but good

  • Eric
    2018-10-24 21:49

    Brilliant story. Fascinating characters, and the way the story was told from all the different characters' points of view. The historical context, the way the characters all revolve around each other, popping up in each other's narratives of the goings on, and the snippets from the literary references, Great Expectations most notably, gave the whole story depth and made it a very easy read.

  • Bobby
    2018-10-20 02:53

    Based on actual events that took place in Communist-era Czechoslovakia, Ledgard recounts the journey, influence, and ultimate demise of the largest captive giraffe herd in the world. Told through various narrators, including the giraffes themselves, the events and perspectives begin to overlap and weave an intricate web of all those involved. Overall, it is an enchanting story of the uniqueness of these animals and how they impact a population who is forced to live in a standardized world.

  • Tara Moritz
    2018-11-17 00:44

    This book has a very unique perspective from the very beginning the story it is told from the Giraffes point of view on occasion. It does become somewhat confusing as the story goes back and forth from the animal to the humans point and then back again. The ending is both tragic and beautifully written. It is an eye opening tail to a part of history that was long since tucked under the rug.

  • Nooilforpacifists
    2018-11-12 22:27

    Others have said it: astounding. Based on a true story, and as neat an allegory for the disease that is Communism, the book relies on startling shifts of narrative perspective to tell the story of 32 African giraffes imported to Czechoslovakia in the mid-1970s. They lifted at least two spirits in the workers paradise, but the animals ultimately were treated just like the rest of the workers.

  • Annette
    2018-10-27 20:53

    Oh my heart.

  • Sheli
    2018-11-07 22:40

    This is a shocking, thought-provoking story...I really don't know what to think right now...

  • Janne
    2018-11-05 23:32

    Hugely under-rated book.

  • Jenny's Book Life
    2018-11-01 02:46

    Final Remarks for "Giraffe" by J. M. Ledgard(These are not spoilers as the story is well-known.)3 STARS ***In the early 1970s a herd of 32 giraffes is rounded up and transported to a Czechoslovakian zoo for a study and breeding program. The giraffes thrive and become a symbol of Communist superiority until on April 30, 1975 when they were all shot, butchered, and fed to other zoo animals on the order of a party official.The excuse was that the giraffes had a contagion that might spread to other animals.Ledgard, told this powerful story in the many voices of those who had contact with the giraffes. In the final chapters they all come together to relate the grisly ending from their own points-of-view.This was a powerful story and written in a strange voice -- it FELT like we were hearing from old-era Communist bloc mentalities which made it all the more interesting.I like naturalist books and if that's your jam, this was a good book. That being said, it was not a FUN book or a light book.*** 5 Stars = An enduring classic to be read by all; 4 Stars = I LOVE IT! You gotta read it!; 3 Stars = A great book for a specific interest/type of reader/very casual read; 1 or 2 Stars = no comment***

  • Felicity
    2018-11-09 01:54

    3.5 starsAnother book that left me with mixed feelings. This is a multi-point-of-view fictional narrative based on a real series of events that happened in Communist Czechoslovakia.One of the problems I have in assessing this story is that it didn't read like a novel. It has some remarkable strengths. I loved the two main viewpoint characters: Emil, a charming scientist from a privileged background who is secretly anti-Communist; and Amina, a somnambulist factory worker who becomes very attached to the captive giraffes. I found the setting fascinating -- I've never read anything set in Czechoslovakia before, let alone Communist Czechoslovakia. I thought the prose was very fine. It employed a certain amount of repetition, which I rapidly became fond of. There are certain phrases and images that appear over and over: "the Communist moment", people sleepwalking through Communism, Czechoslovakia's lack of wind, rivers as veins, humans and giraffes being "vertical creatures". These repetitions gave the story a dream-like quality, so that the reader enters into the somnambulism of the setting and accepts the recurring images, the similarity of events in Africa and Europe, the way different people's internal lives can rhyme.However, there were some problems. It had very slight conflict, and passive characters. I find that acceptable, but some would hate it. The end is rather unsatisfying, though an argument could be made for that being the point: the author communicating the meaninglessness of events rather than trying to give them meaning through his work. Also, a lot of characters seemed to be interested in long, discursive discussion of thematically related material, such as the history of captive animals in Czechoslovakia. I'm willing to accept, even embrace, two main characters who are introspective, dreamy and ruminative. But several supporting characters who spout paragraphs of historical research? Not so much.My biggest problem with the book was some of the points of view. I found the initial section, from the main giraffe's perspective, a trifle overwritten and sometimes encumbered with human knowledge and concepts. Any animal POV is a big risk, one I think you need to take all the way -- writing animal sections throughout or exclusively -- or not take at all. I also didn't think we needed the butcher's point of view at -- he added nothing to the artistry of the story, repeated events we already understood. His only essential role was to connect to the last, foreign correspondent's POV and thus explain the existence of the book. I didn't like the foreign correspondent, I didn't think his POV added anything, and I don't need the existence of the book explained. In fact, given its ethereal charm, I'd almost rather it went unexplained.In short: a beautiful, enigmatic book I enjoyed listening to. The events are troubling and there's not much resolution, but it's a quick read, so if you want to be challenged and transported, give it a try.

  • Jesika
    2018-10-19 18:48

    Giraffe is an intriguing book. I read through it in awe of the species and how 'unknown' they were to western Europe in the 1960's. I find giraffes extremely interesting. They have been my favorite animal as far back as I can recall. However, this is one of the first books to actually pull at my heart-strings so intensely. The last half of the book, when they execute 'the largest captive heard' I was brought to tears. It was so sad that they tore the giraffes from there native Africa just to end up offing them all because of a contagion.I read the entire book thinking that it was a work of fiction only to discover at the end that it is actually a true story with changed details to protect personal identities. I just don't fully understand why the Communist Movement was so determined to act as if nothing happened. How can you wipe out an entire heard of giraffes and then expect no one to notice? I understand the whole not wanting to cause an outbreak of paranoia amongst the state, but at the same time documentation would have helped scientists in the future to go over the contagion and perhaps find a better way to handle the situation should it ever rise again.I definitely enjoyed all the different perspectives that the book was seen through. So many diverse people all brought together by a herd of giraffes, which I think is a beautiful way to untie people. The way J.M.Legend describes the scenery during all the traveling done throughout the book makes it immensely easy to paint pictures in your mind. For his first novel this book was truly moving and well written.There was one passage from Amina's thoughts that spoke out to me: "My birthday is of no great consequence. My life will leave no lasting mark. It will be no more than the mark of a cuff button on one's wrist that quickly fades, or these few ripples vanishing as I slip from the float into the water. It is nothing to be sorry about. I am like the swallows around me on the Svět. I touch the world, I rise again."Overall, this was a powerfully moving book that brought me to tears at the end. Especially when it jumps to 1999, where the butcher is being interviewed by young Americans in town to cover a carp harvest. The fact that he held on to that piece of giraffe hide for all of those years is a nice, warm thought to end on.