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Zarafa by Michael Allin
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Zarafa (1998)

by Michael Allin

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3881543,032 (3.51)74
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.… (more)
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The book is subtitled: A Giraffe’s True Story, From Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris.

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.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
The Things you LEARN !
Learned Egyptian history, French history, much about giraffes.
Awesome.
Love love love these unusual interesting historical tales. ( )
  CasaBooks | Apr 28, 2013 |
This is beautifully writtten book a giraffe's epic journey from Africa to Paris- walking the last 550 miles through the French countywide in 1827. But it is so much more! ( )
  WinstonDog | Apr 4, 2013 |
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. ( )
2 vote DeltaQueen50 | Nov 9, 2012 |
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Michael Allinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Eklöf, MargaretaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Through a hole in the wall Of the Jardin des Plantes We come to go round The animals for the last time . . ." - James Dickey, "Goodbye to Serpents"
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This book is for Jack Allin
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At Khartoum, Shambat Bridge now spans the very beginning of the Nile.
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She was an intriguing royal gift and one that certainly caused a stir among the people of nineteenth-century France. On Tuesday 31 October 1826, a young Masai giraffe - Zarafa - landed incognito outside the bustling port of Marseilles.
Zarafa was the first living giraffe Europe had seen in almost 350 years and the first of her kind ever to arrive in France. She was a politically motivated tribute to Charles X from Muhammed Ali, the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, who hoped to forestall European intervention in his war against the Greeks. The gentle animal, however, soon became an adored celebrity in her own right and the embodiment of an era in French history rich in new scientific and cultural ideas.

Captured and tamed in the Ethopian highlands, Zarafa travelled 3,500 miles down the Blue Nile and the Nile and then across the Mediterranean. After wintering in Marseilles, she was carefully and lovingly walked the 550 miles to Paris by one of the premier savants of the time, Etienne Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire. Along the way, through villages and vineyards and from cottages to chateaux, the entire population was captivated by the 'beautiful African'. In Lyons, a crowd of 30,000 people turned out to see her. In Paris, the king entralled by his long-awaited curiosité, put Zarafa on daily exhibition in le Jardin du Roi.
She became the rage of the city, providing a subject for songs, poems and political satires and the inspiration for fashion à la Giraffe as women coiffured their hair so high that they had to sit on the floors of their carriages, men sported chic elongated hats and ties, and the children playing in the parks ate gingerbread giraffes.

Michael Allin's book is not only the enchanting story of the giraffe's epic journey. It is also the tale imbued with history. Linking primitive Africa with post-Napoleonic France, Zarafa was a symbol of an age fascinated by progress and the unfamiliar, an amazing creature that captured the hearts and imagination of men and women throughout Europe.
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