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Book summary and reviews of West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

West with Giraffes

A Novel

by Lynda Rutledge

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  • Published:
  • Feb 2021
    372 pages
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About this book

Book Summary

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.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. In your view, who do you think is the real protagonist of the story?
  2. Woody went through a lot of injustices early in his life, how do you think his childhood shaped him into the person he became?
  3. Woody had never met a Black person before his journey across the country, how did his internalized racism change after the trip?
  4. "Time heals all wounds, they say. I'm here to tell you that time can wound you all on its own." What do you think Woody means by this statement?
  5. How did Woody mature under the Old Man's guidance? What factors contributed to their bond?
  6. Red has quite a bucket list. How did that list shape her as a character? Do you have a bucket list? If so, what are some of the items on your list?
  7. Woody is known for stealing; do ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about West with Giraffes:

"Time heals all wounds, they say. I'm here to tell you that time can wound you all on its own." What do you think Woody means by this statement?
A long lonely life, which I believe Woody lived, makes time the enemy. He knew that he would never get to be with Augusta Red and because he had made her the key to his happiness, he resigned himself to living out his life in quiet sadness. - BuffaloGirl

Do you think Red and Woody's lives are as different as they seem on the surface? Could they have built a relationship and a life together under different circumstances?
It's hard to say if their relationship would have survived if they remained together. Both were so young and people often change over time. But I also have friends who married at very young ages and 50 years later are still together. Many ... - BuffaloGirl

Do you think your tolerance for lying and stealing would change in desperate times?
I honestly don't know what I would do, but hope that I would have the strength my mother and grandmother had. I don't think we have an inkling of what hard times really are. My mother was a child during the Great Depression. In addition,... - BuffaloGirl

How did Red's bucket list shape her as a character? Do you have a bucket list? If so, what are some of the items on your list?
Her bucket list was ambitious and I think kept her going. It also made her a very unusual woman for the time she lived in. She chose to define her life rather than let others; i.e. her husband, define it as most women did. - BuffaloGirl

How did Woody mature under the Old Man's guidance? What factors contributed to their bond?
The Old Man initially took Woody on as the driver because he was between a rock and a hard place, but he rapidly saw that Woody had potential. I believe he put up with Woody's half-truths, lies, and thievery because he had a pretty good idea of... - BuffaloGirl

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] larger-than-life story about the power of both animal magnetism and human connection…witty, charming, and heartwarming." - Booklist

"West with Giraffes is truly a fun read…I [can't] imagine a reading list that would not contain Lynda Rutledge's astonishing novel." - Old Naples News

"Every year I find at least one book that soars above all the others. This year West With Giraffes is that book." - Florida Times Union

"A flawless novel." - Austin American-Statesman

This information about West with Giraffes was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own reviewwrite your own review

Maureen C

Wonderful Adventure
This is a heartwarming story of Woody Nickle’s adventure. He is now 105 years old and is writing about his adventure when he was 17. There was a hurricane in 1938 in the north east. Giraffes were on board a ship to be transported to the San Diego zoo. Two giraffes survived this horrific voyage.

This book is fictional tale based on a true event. There are very interesting characters as they travel the Lee Highway from town to town from New York to California. The giraffes were welcomed by the people in each town as newspapers, documented their arrival.
This is a wonderful story that will stay with you for a very long time.

Highly recommended.

Ronni McGorty

Incredible stoty
A most enjoyable book! I totally got caught up in their journey and Woody’s story. Love books based on true facts. An incredible story! Recommend to everyone!

LinZ

Never thought about giraffes!
I have been to many zoos around the US, and never once thought about how animals arrived here. I took for granted that they had human treatment and were cared for but never considered that it was perilous and heartbreaking. I enjoyed the character development of Woody and his boss who risked much to get the animals safely to the zoo. A truly inspiring story!

Lois B

A Journey back in time
Overall a really good story. We follow four characters; Woody, the Old Man, Red, and the Giraffes across the country from the east coast to the west coast during the dust bowl era. We get a glimpse of what that trip would have been like if we had taken it ourselves back in the day. Each character has a backstory that the author keeps us just interested enough to keep reading to find out how it all ends.

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Author Information

Lynda Rutledge Author Biography

Before she became a novelist, Lynda was a professional writer for over 25 years, working as a copywriter, restaurant and film reviewer, book collaborator, nonfiction author, travel writer, and freelance journalist. She petted baby rhinos, snorkeled with endangered sea turtles, hang-glided off a small Swiss mountain, and dodged hurricanes to write articles for national and international publications, such as the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Poets & Writers, Houston Post, San Diego Union-Tribune and many more, her travel photographs often appearing with her work. She's also crafted book-length nonfiction for famous organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the San Diego Zoo Global (for which she's shown below doing an interview with one of her favorite animals that inspired...

... Full Biography
Link to Lynda Rutledge's Website

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