5 stars · American Tall Tale · Book Review · Favorite Books · Historical Fiction

West with Giraffes…a satisfying American tall tale

If you loved the movie Big Fish, you’ll love West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge. A historical fiction that holds its own in the American tall tale tradition, West with Giraffes holds the fine balance between just enough truth and just enough tall tale to be believable. I had a blast reading this book and actually just purchased a copy for my dad, who shares my love of Westerns and tall tales.

West with Giraffes follows the strange-but-true story of a pair of giraffes as they endure a wild boat trip across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, barely surviving a hurricane, before embarking on an epic road trip across the United States from New York to the San Diego zoon in California.

Rutledge skillfully navigates her way through the time period, folding her readers into the gritty reality of 1938; an America beaten, bruised and slowly recovering from the back to back travesties of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the fear and trepidation of Hitler’s rise to power, the palpable tension between black and white Americans, the wide open spaces between abandoned towns and the unreliable dirt roads that passed for highways.

Against this dark and dreary back drop, Rutledge gifts us with a strong cast of unlikely heroes: two awe inspiring giraffes, a beautiful and impulsive photographer, a grumpy but wise Old Man who keeps our heroes moving ever forward, and young man to rival any of the great American tall tale heroes, Woody Nickel. Through a series of wild happenstance, the inexperienced but determined Woody becomes the giraffes chauffer, embarking on the ride of life time.

If there is one thread that Rutledge weaves flawlessly through West with Giraffes, it’s the tiny spark of hope that people in hard times cherish and stoke so desperately. The giraffes, which were extremely rare in the US at that time, due to their delicate nature and the long distances required to acquire them, provide that hopeful beacon. Rutledge does a fantastic job reproducing the wonder, awe and excitement of folks seeing a giraffe for the very first time, particularly for an audience accustomed to feeding giraffes at their local zoo on any given weekday. I found myself enamored with giraffes and inspired to look a little deeper at this modern day staple of zoo creatures.

This was a fantastic read and a great way to break out of the mid-winter pandemic blues. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more by this author.

Happy reading friends! Until next time, cheers!

-R

1938: Lofty and Patches loaded into their caravan for their cross country journey to the San Diego zoo. https://library.sandiegozoo.org/sdzg-history-timeline/#1930

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