About Some Books, Your Books

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Giraffe: A Novel by J M Ledgard

It was 1975. On the eve of May Day, secret police dressed in chemical warfare set of clothes sealed off a zoo in a small Czechoslovakian town. They ordered the destruction of the biggest captive herd of giraffes in the world. This apparently senseless massacre lies at the heart of J.M. Ledgard's remarkable first novel.

It is a story about those giraffes from the moment of their capture in Africa to their deaths far away behind the Iron Curtain. The main character, Emil, a haemodynamicist (he studies blood flow in vertical creatures) who is chosen to accompany them from Hamburg by barge into Czechoslovakia. There Amina, a sleepwalker, a factory girl, glimpses their arrival, is awakened by them, and goes each day to gaze up at them. She is with them at the end, blinding them with a torch, as Jiri, a sharpshooter, brings them down one by one.

Giraffe is a story about strangeness, about creatures that are alien, silent, finely mazed and impossibly stretched. It is also a story about captivity, about Czechoslovakia, a middling totalitarian state in the middle of Europe that is itself asleep, under a spell, a nation of sleepwalkers.

Giraffe is beautiful, outrageous, and memorable.