Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Everyone else was posting about this book, so I had to read it.

Short synopsis: in the summer of 1931, a 23-year-old Polish Cornell veterinary school drop-out with no money and no hope accidentally finds himself on board a circus train. Hijinx ensue.

This was a real fun read, a great narrative with all the classic elements--I read the whole thing in two sittings (two sittings because, to my chagrin, I had to go to work in between). The added bonus is the circus never gets dull, and I learned a lot from this book. Some of the most fantastic minor plot elements, the author confesses in her note at the back, aren't fiction at all--taken straight from the annals of American circus history. One of the most unbelievable concepts to me is that in times of economic hardship the circus bosses were known to "redlight" blue collar men--that is, throw them from the train during the night (Gruen maintains in interviews that there is historical evidence this happened).

The only detraction for me was the contemporary narrative (the old man remembering)--I hate this format and find that I don't care about the old man (or maybe, more accurately, I find the old man's story really upsetting to read). My mother, however, cited the old man as her favorite part of the book (I stole her copy), so this is clearly subjective.

1 comment:

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

I found the "old man's" part hard to read as well, but I found it integral to the story. I guess I his voice hit hard because of the reality of our own probable physical destiny, unless we die young. I concluded, more than ever, getting "old" is not for wimps.

I loved the voice of the main character. I loved this book, and found it nearly flawless in story-telling, setting, plot, character arc and believability.

I highly recommend this book.