Every once in a while you come across that book that it is quite simply, a nice book. That is exactly what author Lynda Rutledge has given us in West With Giraffes. This is a nice book, an easy book to read, and one that is filled with stories and characters that you will remember for years. For some it will tug on their heartstrings, some will be amazed at the actual story this is based upon, and others will simply marvel at the way Rutledge is able to combine history with a fictional story to make a very pleasing and enjoyable read.
This book is based upon the true travels of a pair of giraffes who were imported from Africa and whose final destination was their new home in the San Diego Zoo, maybe the greatest zoo in America and in all of the world. The story takes place in 1938 when these two giraffes arrive on a boat that had to come through a hurricane. They were battered and bruised, and they were fearful one of giraffes was going to die. But thanks to the veterinarians, the zookeeper who was in charge of the move and the driver who is the narrator of the book, we were able to follow these two animals as they make their way across America on their 3200 mile trek to San Diego. Not only is this a story about the giraffes, but more so this is a story about America in 1938, a land with no superhighways and limited conveniences. Our narrator is a 17 year old boy who came from the Dust Bowl who ran away to the East Coast to escape the pain that he endured those last years that he lived in Texas.
Eventually the zookeeper, known throughout the story as Old Man, and our narrator, whose name is Woody Nichols set out for Washington DC where a new driver was supposed to be obtained. This is something that happens throughout the entire book since Woody is always fearful that Old Man is going to be replacing him with a new driver every time they get to a new city. Woody is both insecure but also is hiding a secret and sometimes make some of the most boneheaded decisions you could imagine. But again, it’s 1938, it’s the depression, the Dust Bowl and a young man who’s trying to come of age and has few life experiences other than dust, dirt and poverty. Along the way they are followed by a photographer that Woody names Red (due to her hair color). She has a love affair with the giraffes and eventually she is an integral part of this story.
The book is divided into chapters which correlate to a specific segment of the drive from New York to San Diego. In each chapter there’s a new problem that these two men are going to have to face. There are gawkers, there are friendly people and then there are some really bad characters. We will follow the adventures of this traveling transport as they try to safely make their way across country. There are a lot of temptations, there are a lot of difficult choices that have to be made, but through this whole book we are seeing the slow evolution of a young man, Woody, and that story is as interesting and important as that of the giraffes.
A story such as this would not be possible today, at least not in America, as planes or large freight carriers would transport these creatures across country, Back then this was a major event, a story that was covered by over 500 newspapers and one which brought an amazing amount of attention to the giraffes, as well as their final destination at the San Diego Zoo. Too often we forget about the people who do the jobs that we don’t see. This has become quite obvious during the pandemic of 2020 through 2022, as we come to realize the importance of the supply chain and those people who help make sure things move across the country. Here, the only supply chain is Woody and the Old Man. We get a chance to see these two interact, and the love that they have for the giraffes. My only negative comment is that by the end of the book I feel that the narrator’s voice has changed a bit and he has become more worldly. Of course, by the time he is writing this book he is 105 years old, so he should have become more worldly! But nonetheless this is an outstanding effort and one that most all readers will enjoy. If you’re in the mood for a nice book, a good book, a heartwarming book then this is a great book for you.