First Impression Friday: “West With Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge

I’m currently on a kick to try and read through some of the Kindle books I’ve got stacking up in my library, and I’m pretty sure this was either one of December’s Kindle First Reads or one of January’s, but I can’t remember for certain.

From GoodReads:

An emotional, rousing novel inspired by the incredible true story of two giraffes who made headlines and won the hearts of Depression-era America.

“Few true friends have I known and two were giraffes…”

Woodrow Wilson Nickel, age 105, feels his life ebbing away. But when he learns giraffes are going extinct, he finds himself recalling the unforgettable experience he cannot take to his grave.

It’s 1938. The Great Depression lingers. Hitler is threatening Europe, and world-weary Americans long for wonder. They find it in two giraffes who miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic. What follows is a twelve-day road trip in a custom truck to deliver Southern California’s first giraffes to the San Diego Zoo. Behind the wheel is the young Dust Bowl rowdy Woodrow. Inspired by true events, the tale weaves real-life figures with fictional ones, including the world’s first female zoo director, a crusty old man with a past, a young female photographer with a secret, and assorted reprobates as spotty as the giraffes.

Part adventure, part historical saga, and part coming-of-age love story, West with Giraffes explores what it means to be changed by the grace of animals, the kindness of strangers, the passing of time, and a story told before it’s too late. 

West with Giraffes

Our story opens with Woodrow’s death in a nursing home in 2025, and an orderly tasked with cleaning out his room opens his steamer trunk to find his memoirs, the most exciting one being the following of two giraffes across the country from New York City to the promised lands of California. It’s the Great Depression, Woodrow has barely escaped the Dust Bowl and made it to his only living relative, New York City. He’s a teenager, and the teenage boy is strong with this one. At one point he stakes out a reporter who’s also watching the giraffes, and he spends his time watching her also daydreaming about kissing her, which was really uncomfortable to read. I love Rutledge’s narrative style, though, so I’m willing to stick through this until the end.

I’ve never heard of the supposed true event that this book is based on, but I’m willing to find out our historical background. I found a one-line mention of the real giraffes, Lofty and Peaches, in this article, which led me to a longer article specifically about Lofty and Patches, which makes me think the original article had it wrong? So now I have a slight spoiler: our giraffes should survive their journey, and they even lived at the zoo for thirty years! I am interested more in the cross-country road trip our narrator goes on (on a stolen motorcycle to start off, nonetheless!), and I want to see if he actually makes contact with the giraffe’s keeper and helps him along the way. It’s sure to be an interesting ride.

How do you feel about fictional books based on real-life events? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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