"The window giraffe was a picture book from which we learned to read when we didn't know how to. We learned from it that the sun rises in the east, that our hearts are on the left, that the Great October Revolution was in November, and that light comes through the window - even when it is closed."
The Last Window Giraffe is a Multimedia Project of Zilahy Péter and C3 (Centre for Culture and Communication). It has been developed from the book by the same title, which was published in December 1998, by Ab Ovo. The Last Window Giraffe has been highly successful both in Hungary and abroad and participated at the Frankfurt Bookfair 1999, where Hungary was at the focal point. It has also been adapted for radio drama in Hungarian (2000) and also in German (2001). The Last Window Giraffe describes the world of the seventies and eighties in a playful form. It is based on a children's dictionary which was entitled Window-Giraffe (Ablak-Zsiráf, Ablak=Window being the first item and Zsiráf=Giraffe being the last item in this A to Z). The Window-Giraffe explained the whole world in simple words, where everything was in order and problems were always solved. The author had been travelling throughout Eastern Europe during the protests that changed the so-called soft dictatorships believing that the best way to understand it was by watching the end. The book also describes the events of the Carnival like protest of Belgrade 96-97' as being symbolic of all protests in its courage and absurdity. The book deals with the events in Belgrade at the same time as the author explores his own childhood in communist Hungary. He uses quotes from the original Window-Giraffe, and explains things from A to Z like the alphabet book he and his generation learned to read and write from. This humorous style mirrors the way the regime treated the people like children. The system ceased to exist at the year of his graduation from school and thus memories of childhood and regime become interdependent and the hero's character grows out of dictatorship as time goes by.
The multimedia project of The Last Window Giraffe is a pioneering work in the domain of literature and multimedia. It is a multilingual CD in English, German, Serbian and Hungarian, where one can cross over and compare various interpretations. It combines elements of children's dictionaries from several countries from the East German 'Von Anton bis Zylinder' to Richard Scarry's Storybook Dictionary, it also uses sounds and videos from the seventies and eighties that had an emotional impact on the author, plus the music and archives of the protest. It is a picture dictionary for Central and Eastern Europe in four languages. A lexicon which contains what's been left out.
Excerpts from reviews about the book
... Zilahy starts for the south and wanders around in his own past. His choice of subject is explicit and so is his concreteness (a while raven on the Hungarian literary scene), while his work is wrought through and through with a sense of multiple fictionality, a sort of as-if-ness. You'd think it was written by one of the 68-ers, as they're called, but one who was not yet born in 68. The freshness of his experience comes through the text; it's like he'd been there at every milestone, as if the book were written by a journalist with a poet's imagination.
I have not read anything so original in fifteen years. Zilahy feels and understands his age. He has a good sense of humour, and also his own inimitable style. He is writing a story, and in the meantime, he is happening himself. Péter Zilahy's pictorial novel is a welcome novelty, and I will even venture to say the literary event of the year.
As the 20th century drew to a close, we thought that travel literature had become a thing of the past, the early and 19th century writings of the British adventurers no longer of interest, while the genre itself has sunk to the level of Robert Kaplan. Then a book appeared out of the blue, a Window Giraffe, and you were forced to realize for the hundredth time that the problem was not with the genre, but those who had engaged in it. Péter Zilahy's lyrical associations, the personal authenticity of the descriptions, the careful avoidance of stereotype cynicism, resulted not only in a very special book, but saved a literary genre from banality, and brought it back from a state of suspended animation.