Friday, April 13, 2007

Book Review: Giraffe by J. M. Ledgard

I don't know if I've ever read a book that stirred such mixed feelings within me. I really like and admire J. M. Ledgard. He is an investigative reporter who writes for The Atlantic, and I always read and enjoy his stories. So when I saw he had written a novel, I was interested. When I saw the subject matter, that it was about the slaughter of 49 giraffes in captivity in Czechoslovakia in 1975, I was even more interested. The book disappointed my expectations -- and at the same time, I can't stop thinking about it.

I'm not sure why J. M. Ledgard chose to make this a novel instead of a non-fiction type investigative report type book. I read somewhere (and now can't remember the source) that he started out writing a novel because the true story of what happened to the giraffes wasn't actually known. Remember, Czechoslovakia was behind the Iron Curtain in 1975 and no one was telling the real story of what happened...if indeed, anyone was alive to tell the story. But in the course of his research for this book, J. M. uncovered the truth of what really happened. Maybe it was too late to go back and change it into a non-fiction read. Maybe his sources wouldn't be cited. I don't know.

What I do know is that character development isn't strong in the story. I felt the telling of the story from so many different viewpoints was choppy, and I didn't feel a strong connection to the narrators. (I did, however, like that one of the giraffes narrates)! So I was trudging through - almost deciding at one point to call it quits but I was in a car on a long road trip so I trudged on - and then I came to the actual slaughter of the giraffes. I cried. I don't know if I'll ever forget that literary scene. It could have been on the big screen for all that it is engraved on my mind.

As I said, I really like J.M. Ledgard. I think he would have done the story more justice if he had stuck to his genre of investigative reporting. But he didn't -- and I still think you should read this book, even if you slog through the first 200 pages.


kookiejar said...

I tried, tried, tried to read this. I picked it up mostly because I loved the cover (isn't there a saying warning against this type of behavior? Anyway..), and because I rather liked Barbara Gowdy's 'The White Bone' which was about elephants. However, I couldn't get more than 30 pages in. I might have to give it another whirl now that you've said that there is good stuff in there. Thanks.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

My daughter pointed out to me, and I agree, that journalists often write choppy fiction.

meredith said...

i just finished this book last night and i balled my eyes out. i do agree with most of what you said. the narratives are too choppy and i would have like to see more perspectives from the giraffes. but that would make the book sadder and it was already very sad. i did look up some conspiracy theories such as arms trades in somalia, or mircofilm stitched in the underbellies of the giraffes. ledgard picked the 'hoof and mouth' virus as the most logical reason for the slaughter. but in communist countries, you never really do know.