West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge: book review

Book cover: West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

West with Giraffes is a heart-warming novel based on a true story. In 1938, America was looking for a feel-good tale to help them through the threat of Hitler in Europe and the continuing Great Depression.

Two giraffes miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic and end up in New York. They were on their way to San Diego Zoo in California.

The narrator, Woodrow Wilson Nickel, aged 105, is desperate to write his story before he succumbs to dementia. He is terrified that his tale won’t be told, especially as, at that time, giraffes were facing extinction.

The novel contains fictional and real-life figures. The main characters are Dust Bowl Rowdy Woodrow, a young female photographer, an old zookeeper and the first female zoo director.

Various episodes and encounters happen on their 12-day journey. What comes over in the novel is the care the giraffes were given and the joy they brought to people as the truck passed through their towns. It is hard to believe that a truck in 1938 could transport these beautiful and incredible animals safely and securely. Threading for the novel is the race against time to get the animals there alive and well. Any longer than 12 days, and it was feared the animals would die, especially as the female had an injured leg due to the storm.

At the heart of West with Giraffes is the relationship between the 17yr old Woodrow and the giraffes. He learnt so much from them, and it was a relationship that continued to the end of the giraffes’ lives.

I can well believe that this story brought joy to many people during such difficult years. Hard to believe that giraffes were facing extinction, and we are lucky to have so many conservation programs so everyone can now enjoy the beauty of these magnificent animals.

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