Author: Sara Gruen
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
GEMS: I had a hard time putting this book down, not because it was action packed or particularly fast paced, but because the development, sincerity and engaging voice of the main character at both stages of his life was refreshingly flawless. The voice remains true and believable throughout the entire narrative and is well developed giving me a clear picture of who Jacob Jankowski is and why I should care. Because this is achieved, I am fully invested in his world and experiences. Like wise, the supporting characters are dynamic and interesting, but even given their deformities, whether physical or psychologically, they never over shadow the main character.
The book provokes thoughts on treatment and intelligence of animals, economy, marriage, class, race, healthcare, friendship and family. As well as, it forces us to take a hard look at how our culture deals with the elderly.
“Sometimes the monotony of bingo and sing-alongs and ancient dusty people parked in the hallway in wheelchairs makes me long for death. Particularly when I remember that I’m one of the ancient dusty people, filed away like some worthless tchotchke.”
FLAWS: If I had to give a ‘con’ to the book, it would be toward the ending when the author simplifies Jacob’s journey with a ‘run away with the circus’ solution. However, this does not disappoint and in a way is the logical path and most appropriate ending given the character’s circumstances and alternative. It is the happiest it can get.