J. M. Ledgard, Author . Penguin Press $24.95 (298p) ISBN 978-1-59420-099-1

This phantasmagoric debut novel by Economist correspondent Ledgard recounts the extermination of the world's largest captive herd of giraffes in a Czechoslovakian zoo in 1975. The story begins with the animals' 1973 capture in East Africa (narrated by Snehurka, the herd leader); then Emil, a haemodynamicist (a biologist who studies vertical blood flow), narrates their journey to the zoo, where the animals serve as entertainment for workers like Amina, who is fascinated by the giraffes and spends her free time with the silent creatures (they remind her of "a nation asleep, of workers normalized into sleepwalkers"). Other narrators come and go, including a virologist in a secret government laboratory and a forester/sharpshooter. Throughout, Emil ruminates on the ills of the Czech "Communist moment," but he is also this inventive novel's weakness, as he remains ungraspable and too much inside his dreamy, free-associative head. Once the giraffes are discovered to be diseased, their fate is sealed, and the novel's narrators converge as the government's secret plan to shoot the animals unfolds. Ledgard's novel has bursts of sparkling intensity—the giraffe massacre, told from the sharpshooter's point of view, is particularly wrenching—but a stronger cast of narrators would have better bolstered Ledgard's magnificent material. (On sale Aug 21)

Reviewed on: 05/22/2006
Release date: 08/01/2006
Hardcover - 224 pages - 978-0-224-07689-0
Paperback - 298 pages - 978-0-14-303896-2
Compact Disc - 6 pages - 978-0-14-305904-2
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