Jacob Jankowski while attending his final semester of veterinary school at an Ivy League university learns of his parent’s death in a car crash. He leaves vet school during final exams and while aimlessly wondering, hops a train and discovers he is on a special circus train occupied by the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jacob parlays his veterinary expertise into a full-time position with the circus.
Jacob shares what was once a sheep pen as his sleeping quarters with a circus dwarf name Kinko (Walter) and his bob-tailed dog Queenie. He is befriended by the circuses star performer, a beauty named Marlena, and her husband August, the shows number two man and head trainer. Jacob falls in love with Marlena, and learns to hate and fear August for his cruelty to both humans and animals alike.
Needless to say, the story revolves around the love triangle between these three; add a toothless lion, an elephant that only understands Polish, and an orangutan, and you have a very entertaining novel.
The narrator of the story is Jacob Jankowski in later life, confined to a nursing home at age 93. He reflects back 70-years to events in the summer of 1933.
I lost my father last year; he was 93 and in a nursing home. I had so much empathy for Jacob, as I imagined my father thinking, saying, and doing the things old Jacob did while denied his freedom, and in some cases his dignity in his final years.
I would recommend this book on three levles – as a historical novel, as a well told interpersonal story, and as an insight into a gentleman’s twilight years.