Sharon's Book & Wine Club - May 2021
West with giraffes by Lynda Rutledge
“A perfect balance between history and fiction… Rutledge blends fictional characters with real historical personalities to create a story that is equal parts educational, quirky, and romantic.”
West with Giraffes is Austin writer Lynda Rutledge’s second novel, preceded by Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale, winner of a 2013 Writers’ League of Texas Book Award. While conducting research in the archives of the San Diego Zoo, Rutledge came across a trove of newspaper articles about two giraffes that had survived a hurricane on the deck of a freighter and a cross-country trip, from New York to California, in 1938. Inspiration struck, and the result is this charming and wondrous enchantment of a novel.
The tale is told through Nickel’s memoir as he writes it in the VA hospital, in a race against time the avenger, the historical story unfolding in first-person narration, regularly interrupted by various nurses and orderlies doing their utmost to convince this cantankerous author-on-a-mission to rest, eat, or take a pill already; he is 105 years old. Even the foreshadowing of tragedy manages to be funny.
The plot unfolds fast and steady, with a surprise down every highway. The dialogue is simple, as related by a seventeen-year-old from the sticks, sometimes clever, sometimes sweet, always true. Nickel says of Augusta, “If Red’s heart was already broken, mine had barely been used . . . her face full of things I did not understand yet was desperate to remember.”
West with Giraffes is a madcap scrape of a coming-of-age road trip, complete with stowaways, circuses, attempted giraffe-napping, biblical catastrophe, romance, shocking truths, brave sacrifices, and tragedy—in short, a grand adventure.
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“A delightful read, I couldn’t put it down. Told through the memory of an aged veteran, the story is set against the background of the Dust Bowl, the Depression and the advent of a World War. This improbable, but fact-based, story of two giraffes transported cross country in what was basically an over-balanced flatbed truck made me laugh, cry. and actually care about the dangers they were experiencing. A touch of unrequited romance, a bit of larceny and a droll sense of humor kept me entranced to the end. This book stays in my library for later rereading.”
“West with Giraffes is a madcap scrape of a coming-of-age road trip, complete with stowaways, circuses, attempted giraffe-napping, biblical catastrophe, romance, shocking truths, brave sacrifices, and tragedy—in short, a grand adventure.” -Lone Star Literary Life, National Book Critcis Circle member
Book Club Questions
THE HERO’S JOURNEY
- Who do you believe is the true protagonist of the story?
- How do you think Woody’s childhood shaped him?
- What can we learn from Woody’s relationship with the giraffes and our
human obligation to animals?
THE STORY PLOT
- What are the major turning points in the story?
- What happens at the beginning of the story that endears us to Woody?
- How was the pacing/structure (does it keep you engaged and are the
stakes constantly escalating)?
- Did it work for you?
- Did you feel unsettled by the unanswered questions about the Old
SYMBOLISM AND FORESHADOWING
- Let’s talk about symbolism. What symbolism was used in the book?
- What was the significance of the Old Man’s pigeon?
- Use one adjective to describe the writing itself.
- What would you change if you could rewrite West with Giraffes?
- Did you like that Woody is writing his story? How does the power of storytelling play into this novel?
- What did you love most about the book?