My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really liked this book.
Several people have recommended it to me, and the Kindle version was recently on sale at a great price, so I picked it up and put it in my "to-read" pile. When it bubbled to the top of the pile, I was glad to read it. For me, it was quite a page-turner and kept my attention well. I managed to read it over the course of just a few days.
Quick plot synopsis: The book focuses on the main character: Jacob. It follows him in two timelines: the "present," where he is an old man in a nursing home, and the "past," where he is a young man who joins the circus for a season after a tragic situation completely disturbs his idea of normalcy. I like how the author goes back and forth between the timelines. In the present, Jacob is excited about the circus visiting town, which brings back a flood of memories from his past. The main story is the story of Jacob in the circus. It's a hard life, but he manages to fit in well enough. During his time in the circus, he makes friends, he makes enemies, he falls in love, he deals with success, he deals with failure. His job is with the animals, and a big part of the book (especially the 2nd half) deals with his relationship between a newly acquired elephant, the performer who works with the elephant, and her husband (who is also Jacob's boss).
What I liked: The characters were believable, as was the plot. I loved going back and forth between the two timelines, and seeing how they related to each other. There were enough twits and turns in the story to keep me engaged, but not so many to become confusing. It's pretty obvious that the author did some research on how circuses worked in the depression era, and the details that she includes provide great color to the story. It's really a behind-the-scenes look at a circus, so it's pretty raw and rough around the edges. This kept it interesting.
What could have been improved: After the book was done, there was a Q-and-A piece with the author where she indicated that the backbone of the story was based on the biblical story of Jacob. I didn't see it. After a bit of internet searching, I saw some discussions that included some explanations on the parallels. After reading them, I can kinda see it, but it's a stretch. It doesn't change how much I enjoyed the book, but it left me feeling that the author was trying to do something with the story that she wasn't quite successful doing. *shrug* If you read the book, go into it looking for those parallels. You'll be more successful finding them if you know to look for them, because it's not at all obvious.
Should you read it? Yes, it's a very enjoyable read.
One of my favorite quotes from the book: "Is where you’re from the place you’re leaving or where you have roots?"
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