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.
The first page of this novel had me hooked, and with each memory, flashback, introduction of new character, and dramatic twist, I just wanted to find out … ‘who dunnit?!’
The sections of the story where we see the present day Jacob were, I found, really sad, not only because of the loneliness he feels, but also because of the description of the treatment of the elderly in the home for the elders that Jacob now calls home.
What I loved most was Rosie, although her treatment at the hands of the villainous August was heart breaking. Marlena, I did not like – can’t exactly put my finger on why, but she just didn’t appeal to me, but Jacob was wonderful – the young and old – especially as he we see him grow and learn from his experiences.
Overall, it’s a very good story, not only because it’s about the circus and Jacob’s experiences, but also because of the very nice murder mystery included at the heart of it. Very much enjoyed reading this novel – so much so that I finished it in two days!
The film adaptation of the novel starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz does justice to the novel – thank goodness! But, the scene stealer, and star of the film, is definitely Rosie!