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.
©2006 J.M. Ledgard; (P)2006 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
"A fascinating and sobering account." (Booklist)
This book is highly poetical, yet retains ones interest throughout. It is a series of events as seen through the eyes of a giraffe, of a man accompanying the captured giraffes to a zoo, and of a girl sleepwalker, highly drawn to the giraffes. Most of all, it describes the deadening effects of life in communist-controlled Czechoslovakia during the 1970's. While the difficult, stifling conditions are described, it shows the ways in which real human beings can keep their inner strength. A book not to be missed.
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