A Giraffe's True Story, From Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris

Book - 1998
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In October 1826, a ship arrived at Marseille carrying the first giraffe ever seen in France. A royal offering from Muhammad Ali, Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, to King Charles X, she had already traveled 2,000 miles down the Nile to Alexandria, from where she had sailed across the Mediterranean standing in the hold, her long neck and head protruding through a hole cut in the deck. In the spring of 1827, after wintering in Marseille, she was carefully walked 550 miles to Paris to the delight of thousands of onlookers.

The viceroy's tribute was politically motivated: He commanded the Turkish forces then fighting the Greeks in their war of independence, and hoped his gift would persuade the French not to intervene against him. But the viceroy and his intentions were quickly forgotten as France fell in love with its "beautiful stranger."
Zarafa chronicles the full story of this remarkable animal, revealing a kaleidoscope of history, science, and culture that opens an exotic window on the early nineteenth century. From the Enlightenment's blossoming fascination with science to Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Egypt in 1798-from the eminent French naturalist #65533;tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire to Bernardino Drovetti, French consul general in Egypt and tomb robber extraordinaire-the era was full of memorable events and characters. Michael Allin deftly weaves them into the story with an appreciation for detail and an uncommon affection.

The giraffe's strange and wonderful journey linked Africa and Europe in mutual discovery. Although her arrival did not keep the French out of Ali's war, she became an instant celebrity in Paris and over the next eighteen years she fascinated all of Europe. Through Michael Allin's narrative skill, Zarafa stirs the imagination as it provides a new context for the history of a distant age.

Publisher: New York : Walker, 1998
ISBN: 9780802713391
Branch Call Number: 599.638 Al
Description: 215 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm


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Nov 11, 2012

Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris by Michael Allin tells the story of this giraffe’s remarkable journey from her birthplace in the Sudan, far down the Nile River, to Paris, France in 1827. She was presented to Charles X by Mohamed Ali the Viceroy of the Ottoman Empire in Egypt as a good will gesture. Although Charles X would have to abdicate four years later, the giraffe won the hearts of all who saw her and lived her life out in relative comfort and security. Upon her death in 1845, she was then donated to a museum in La Rochelle on the west coast of France.

Zarafa was the first giraffe to set foot in France, and after sailing her from Alexandria to Marseilles, she was then walked to Paris. This walk of some 550 miles took over two months and became much more like a grand parade as people thronged to get a sight of this unusual animal who was nicknamed “The Beautiful Stranger”. She became a celebrity and soon women were styling their hair “a la giraffe” and children were eating giraffe shaped cookies.

The author uses the opportunity of Zarafa’s story to impart both history and geography lessons. Although at times I felt he was using this information as filler to his story, it was well researched and certainly gives the reader a fairly accurate picture of how this politically motivated gifting came about. Overall I enjoyed the book, but felt that it bogged down a number of times and didn’t flow smoothly. Perhaps so much information on facts and figures are included, that the reader isn’t given a chance to get lost in the story.


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