West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge weaves a real-life adventure with fictional characters into a charming novel. The story is based upon the 1938 journey of two African giraffes that survived a hurricane before landing in the New York Harbor. The female giraffe was injured but survived. The giraffes were then transported in wooden crates on a flatbed truck across the country. The San Diego Zoo has a fun article about the coast-to-coast trip that Lofty (male) and Patches (female) made from New York to California.
The novel is a fictionalized account of a 17-year old dust-bowl orphan named Woodrow “Woody” Wilson Nickel who finagled his way to become the driver for “The Old Man” (San Diego Zoo Keeper Charley Smith). Woody Nickel is now 105-years-old and decides he needs to write down the adventures to be told to an unknown woman. And what an adventure it was!
The America of 1938 was a very different place, including the fact there were no interstate highways. As Woody and the Old Man endeavor to get the giraffes safely across the country they must deal with bad weather, bad road conditions, and some really bad people. There are kind and curious people who were thrilled to encounter the giraffes, which were such a novelty in 1938. They have to stop often to let the giraffes feed, plus to tend to the female’s wounded leg. Woody and The Old Man are followed by photographers, including one lively red-head female named Augusta Red who catches Woody’s eye and tugs at his heart. In many ways, this is a coming-of-age story for Woody who must learn to deal with the secrets he hides about his deceased family. There is also the lingering question of who is Woody writing this memoir to at such an old age.
4-plus stars. I listened to the Brilliance Audio version which was 10 hours and 29 minutes. I was very disappointed that the audio did not include the author’s notes at the end. I always enjoy reading those. The Kindle edition is 346 pages. The novel was published February 1, 2021. It is my book club’s June 2021 selection. I can’t wait to discuss it!
My 63rd birthday was this past Saturday. I spent part of the day at the Waco, Texas Zoo with my family. Here are some pictures. Please ignore the wild redheaded beast looking at the giraffes.