‘West with Giraffes,’ by Lynda Rutledge

Violetta Armour

In 1938 an enormous hurricane hit New York, killing over 700 New Englanders and upending ships but, miraculously, the SS Robin Goodfellow from Africa, although caught in the vortex, made it to shore with two unlikely passengers who survived: two young giraffes, a male and female. Their ultimate destination was the San Diego Zoo, along with a rhino who was sadly swept overboard.

West with Giraffes, although fiction, is based on this actual event in history and tells of their 13-day, 3,000-mile journey from New York to San Diego in a makeshift truck that allowed them to peek their long and graceful necks out.

The narrator of this adventure is Woodrow Wilson Nickel (Woody) who is now 105 years old in a VA hospital where his personal journal tells the story of his 17th year where he watched in awe as the two giraffes were brought into the harbor. He instantly fell in love with them and, as an orphan, decided to follow them on their journey to California where he heard there are rich opportunities. When the original driver of the rig runs away, he convinced Riley Jones, who is in charge of the giraffes and their journey, to let him be his companion and, furthermore, to drive the truck.

It’s a wild adventure across the country with many challenges, such as treacherous mountain driving, small bridges, and constant traffic, threatening the safety of the rig—not to mention encounters with many shifty characters, such as Percival, an animal abuser who runs a traveling circus, who attempts to buy and steal the giraffes for his own financial gain.

And, of course, there is a love interest when Woody becomes enamored with Augusta “Red” Lowe, a beautiful, young journalist who follows them, wanting to create a successful photo essay of the giraffes’ voyage.

Inspired by a true story, this novel is packed with entertaining adventures that will keep you turning the pages. Yet, more importantly, it is about hope, resilience, love, and the importance of memory and storytelling. I can guarantee you that by the end of it, you, too, will be in love with these two gentle, beautiful animals.

Reviewer Violetta Armour is a Sun Lakes resident and former owner of Pages Bookstore in Ahwatukee. She is the author of five books, including her award-winning I’ll Always Be With You, and her latest mystery, A Pickleball Poison. Her books are available on Amazon.