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3.32  ·  Rating Details ·  668 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
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 l
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published August 17th 2006 by Penguin Press (first published 2006)
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(showing 1-30)
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Sep 17, 2007 Unbridled rated it did not like it
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 ...more
M. Sarki
Mar 11, 2014 M. Sarki rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Aug 22, 2010 Amanda marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 18, 2009 Lindsey rated it it was amazing
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 wa ...more
Nov 14, 2007 Meg rated it really liked it
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 a ...more
Isa K.
Sep 05, 2011 Isa K. rated it really liked it
Shelves: galleys
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.
Jun 30, 2012 Kathryn rated it liked it
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.
Aug 03, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 11, 2007 Annie rated it liked it
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.
May 05, 2009 Derek rated it it was amazing
great read, I discuss it at the bottom of this dispatch
Laia Bárber
May 05, 2013 Laia Bárber rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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 y ...more
Mathijs Beaujean
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Lisa A. Carlson
Feb 17, 2014 Lisa A. Carlson rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: sophisticated readers
Recommended to Lisa A. by: fan of the author
Shelves: fiction
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 this
novel 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
Jan 14, 2008 Cat rated it liked it
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 alre
Feb 23, 2007 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 08, 2007 Raven rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, nature
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 pr
Aug 28, 2012 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
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.
Aug 13, 2007 Bobby rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
May 05, 2016 Tara Moritz rated it really liked it
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.

May 10, 2016 Annette rated it it was amazing
Oh my heart.
Apr 20, 2008 Sheli rated it really liked it
This is a shocking, thought-provoking story...I really don't know what to think right now...
Apr 19, 2012 Janne rated it it was amazing
Hugely under-rated book.
Jan 10, 2017 Cheryl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audios-read
A story told in flowery and descriptive language. It has a sort of dreamlike quality. Beginning with the birth of a giraffe and the poaching of 33 giraffes from Africa as they 'migrated' to communist Czechoslovakia to live in a zoo. Told from different points of view. Snehurka - the much loved giraffe. Then Emil, the Czech hemodynamics researcher and spy. "We are all connected by our suffering."

Ending with the butchery of the herd at the zoo due to a contagious disease. And the coverup by the co
Dec 18, 2009 Felicity rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Felicity by: Annie Bloom's Sale Table
3.5 stars

Another 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
Nov 08, 2015 Jesika rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone that loves historical fables or anyone who loves giraffes.
Recommended to Jesika by: No one. I bought it at a Goodwill one day. It's title called out to me and after reading the back cover I was hooked.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ann Rowley
Apr 27, 2015 Ann Rowley rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book after seeing the writer compared to W.G. Sebald, who is one of my favorites. While I understand the comparison, Ledgard truly has a unique voice of his own.

Like Sebald, fact and fiction intertwine, and in a dismal Europe of decades past, where secrets can destroy as easily as bullets. The novel is based on an incredible true story - in 1975, the largest captive herd of giraffes was slaughtered on the eve of May Day in a provincial Czechoslovakian zoo, and no one knew why. A
Apr 16, 2010 George rated it liked it
I will admit that I was initially drawn to this book simply because of its title and cover. I have always loved giraffes, and books, so a book about giraffes... how could I not? Fortunately the premise was also intriguing -- the book is set in 1970s Czechoslovakia and is based on the true story of the mass execution of what was then the largest herd of captive giraffes in the world. For most of the book, I was pretty sure it was headed for 2 stars. For one thing, very few writers should ever att ...more
Jul 21, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
This powerful, if ultimately depressing, story about the tragic fate of an imported giraffe herd most caught my interest as a meditation on the need for moments of wonder to endure and rise above bleak circumstances, and the ease with which those moments are crushed. The giraffes, first in their travel to Czechoslovakia and later in their zoo captivity, provide wondrous moments of inspiration and interruption to a number of characters, lifting them out of the leaden fog of what they consistently ...more
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“Our souls are made of water, Goethe says. So too, our bodies. There is a flow within us, rising and falling, unidirectional, to the heart. there is a flow without also. We circulate. We are drawn up, and we fall back down to earth again. It's all haemodynamics.” 2 likes
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