This book, by Sara Gruen, is a great one for curling up with on a lazy afternoon when you’re not likely to be interupted. It’s hard to put down.
Jacob Jankowski is an old man in an assisted living home whose memories are sparked by a nearby visiting circus. As he falls into fitful dreams, the past emerges. He was stripped of everything after his parents’ untimely death during the Great Depression when he was just twenty-three, and stricken with grief, failed to sit for his veterinary exams at Cornell. He hops a circus train and is hired on to care for the show’s menagerie, his advanced training in veterinary medicine his ticket into this bizarre world. Here he meets Marlena, an equestrian performer, and her trainer husband August who is obsessively jealous and given to unspeakable cruelties toward man and beast. The story is also about Jacob’s relationship with Rosie, the circus elephant, and Rosemary, one of his caregivers in the nursing home. There’s a lot of bouncing back and forth between the hardscrabble and often unscrupulous practices of a traveling circus, the rowdy carnie atmosphere and the antiseptic corridors of the assisted living home, all viewed through Jacob’s perspective, as he rages helplessly against the decrepitude of old age and the secrets of his past. The transitions from present to past and back again were very smooth. Jacob now dwells in both worlds, and the strong person he once was is exactly who he still is, a man who cannot be broken by circumstances.
Big thumbs up on this one, even if the ending was a bit strange. I still recommend it highly.