Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.
By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.
In an American made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all.
.... Outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE (Prologue): Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.
MEMORABLE MOMENT (Page 408): With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.
KEEP IT OR NOT?: I will be returning this book and have no intention of buying a copy for our home library.
A reading group read, I'm not sure I would have picked this one up otherwise as I hate the thought of animals being made to perform in circuses. That said I did enjoy the book and am glad that I read it.
The story is told by Jacob as both a young man in his early 20s and an elderly gent aged either 90 or 93 - he can't quite remember which.
Young Jacob's story is full of hardship and yet is vibrant, full of adventure and first love and made enjoyable reading whilst the story of elderly Jacob made quite depressing reading and was only saved from being totally maudlin by his memories of happier times and the kindness of nurse Rosemary and circus owner Charlie.
Colourful and exotic, there were a wide variety of characters, many of them complex, all of whom I responded to in one way or another and many of whom I came to care for greatly. Written with more male characters than female, the afore mentioned Rosemary and circus performer Marlena being the only two of note, I think author, Sara Gruen, did a tremendous job getting into the mind-set of all these men.
As for the animal aspect of the novel. Thankfully more about human relationships, I adored the friendship between Jacob, Camel and Kinko, than the animals, I nevertheless found the animal scenes both touching and, at times, distressing. And being totally honest would have preferred for them not to be there at all but I guess their inclusion was necessary if the plot was to remain realistic as animals were a main attraction in circus during this period and sadly would not have always been treated kindly.
What did I like best about the book. Certainly not the love story between Jacob and Marlena - I simply could not bring myself to like her. I think it was the fact that no matter how bad things got for young/old Jacob there was always hope and someone there to offer friendship and support. That and knowing that in the end the villain, the 'baddie', of the story got his just deserts.
The 44th book read for the 100+ Reading Challenge.