Author: Sara Gruen
Published: April 6, 2006
Paperback: 335 pages
Source: purchased at Borders
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (from goodreads.com): Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.
Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
My Thoughts: Jacob Jankowski, the narrator of this story, reflects back on his life as he sits in a nursing home, waiting to see the circus that has come to town. For a few months of Jacob's life, he works on a traveling circus during the 1930s. After the death of his parents, Jacob feels lost and unconnected to anything in the world, so he jumps a train, ready to be swept away to a new place. The train that he jumps is the Benzini Brother's circus train, and he becomes the show's new vet. For a few months, he is swept up in the circus life, taking care of the animals, living life on the train, and falling in love with Marlena, the star of the equestrian, who also happens to be the wife of his boss. Jacob is literally swept into the high stakes world of being a part of a traveling circus.
To me, this book is the reason why I love reading so much. Being caught up in the life of a Depression-era circus, a stampede of exotic animals, en elephant as a main characters ... only a book can sweep you away like that. I love how Sara Gruen told the story, with 93 year old Jacob reflecting back on his memories, and then flashing back to the present, where he is waiting to be swept up by the circus, once again. I thought that her writing was flawless and I instantly felt for both young and old Jacob. To be able to connect with a character is a crucial part of any story (for me), so being able to connect with a young man who is struggling with grief and no real plans for his life, and the old man who is struggling with connecting with his family, I loved.
The setting was gorgeous, the characters flawed but still intriguing, and the story one that truly swept me away and made me want to run away and join the cirucs! If I have one bad thing to say about this book, it is that is was too short! I will definitely be checking out more of Gruen's work!