Jacob Jankowski is a 90 year old man in a nursing home, when a commotion across the street causes him to remember (in flashbacks throughout the book), his past as a circus veterinarian.
Ms. Gruen chose to set her novel in the midst of the great depression, when Ringling was king and the circus train pulled into towns at night, delighting the residents with the anticipation of the entertainment to come. The circus in this book is the fictional Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth – quite a few rungs below the fame of Ringling Brothers.
I absolutely loved hearing about the politics of the circus. How the performers wouldn’t eat or room with the roadies, and how the upper management would coldly “red-light” employees when they didn’t need them anymore. (And in this book, red-lighting literally meant throwing them off the train).
The characters in this book seemed to jump off the page and step into your living room. Some you loved, some you hated, and some you just wanted to learn more about. My favorite character wasn’t a person at all – it was Rosie the elephant. The author did quite of bit of research beforehand and used stories she collected of various circus elephants to create the story of Rosie. She was charming and smart and you couldn’t help cheering for her and crying for her, all at the same time.
What a wonderful glimpse into a mysterious world. And the ending just couldn’t have been better!
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2007