The biography of "the first giraffe ever seen in France ... royal offering from Muhammad Ali, Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, to King Charles X ... she became an instant celebrity in Paris and over the next eighteen years she fascinated all of Europe"--Publisher's description.
In the historical background of that time, Zarafa’s story takes us into the relationship between Egypt and France, including references to the French revolution and Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. We also learn about those people who were most instrumental in guaranteeing the giraffe’s safe journey to what would become the world’s first zoo.
Although the book I read was an advanced, uncorrected proof, I put aside the distractions of poor quality and missing photographs as well as some out of order and redundant information. I was too enthralled with the story of Zarafa herself. I felt both amazement at the fact that this giraffe did so well on her lengthy journey and sadness that such a beautiful creature as she was taken from the wild to live the life prescribed to her by humans.
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.
Zarafa was given to King Charles X of France by Muhammad Ali, The Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt in 1827.
Rich in historical detail, the author does not bore the reader, but rather weaves fascinating tidbits regarding Africa, Egypt and France during the early 1800's.
I learned about the slave trade perpetrated by the Arabs, about Napoleon and his attempt to invade and conquer Egypt, about Muhammad's attempt to capture Alexandria, about the Rosetta stone and much more. This small book is one of the best I've read thus far this year and I highly recommend it.
I give it a five star rating.
In October 1826 a ship arrived at Marseilles carrying the first giraffe ever seen in France. She was a gift from the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt to the King of France; a politically-motivated offering to ensure a powerful ally. Zarafa had already travelled over 1,000 miles to that point, but still needed to get to Paris. Eventually it was decided that the best approach would be to have her walk the 550 miles from Marseille to Paris, where the King awaited the presentation of this extraordinary gift.
Allin did exhaustive, and difficult, research. Many of those who were responsible for capturing and transporting the exotic “camelopard” were illiterate; crude or inaccurate translations further muddied the story. More importantly, the kinds of detailed records that Allin needed to confirm the giraffe’s itinerary (and to flesh out the story) – bills of sale for feed and lodging, for example – were long since destroyed as unimportant. Still, Zarafa was such a sensation in France that her presence had a wide-ranging effect – ladies had their hair coiffured a la Girafe (piled so high they had to ride on the floors of their carriages), children ate giraffe-shaped gingerbread cookies, towns along the giraffe’s route named streets and squares in her honor. She was, indeed a celebrity.
So the book should have been fascinating and interesting to someone like me – a lover of natural history as well as world history. My assumptions were wrong. The sections that dealt with the difficulties, inventive solutions and plain delight of Zarafa’s actual journey were the most interesting to me. On the other hand, Allin’s book bogged down in details of the politics and changing military powers of the time. In total, I thought it was okay. I’m glad I learned about this tiny little detail of history, but I’m not telling everyone to run out and read it.
Learned Egyptian history, French history, much about giraffes.
Love love love these unusual interesting historical tales.