I’m going to tell you right now, this is one of the only books I’ve ever reread just for the sheer joy of rereading it. I’m actually really excited to tell you guys about this book, so let’s get to it!
The book follows Jacob Jankowski, who at the beginning is a 93-year-ld man in a nursing home waiting for someone to take him to the circus. Through flashbacks, Jacob tells of his life leading up to him being in the nursing home. He was originally at Cornell studying to be a vet, like his father, however just before final exams he gets the new that his parents were killed in a car accident and they had mortgaged their house to pay for his schooling so it had been repossessed by the bank. Jacob suffers a breakdown and flees school just before graduation. He hops a train which turns out to be a the circus train of the Benzini Brothers. There he meets an old drunk named camel who takes him to the owner of the circus, Uncle Al (harsh and unapologetic), who only allows Jacob to stay on once he finds out he was training to be a vet. Jacob becomes responsible for the animals in the circus, including new elephant, Rosie who is believed to be useless until Jacob discovers (because he is a Polish American) that she only understands commands in Polish. While carrying for the horses he meets equestrian director August, and his beautiful wife Marlena. August alternates between being charming and abusive to everyone, but none so much as Rosie and Marlena. Nevertheless Jacob enters a guarded friendship with August, and slowly falls in love with Marlena. So August becomes suspicious of Jacob and Marlena’s relationship and beats both of them. Afterwards, Marlena leaves August and begins staying at a hotel when not preforming. Uncle Al calls upon Jacob and tells him that he needs both Marlena and August for his show, then threatens Jacob that his friends will be red lighted (thrown from the moving train as it passes by a trestle in the hopes that they will die or be seriously injured). The threat does not work as later when Jacob discovers that August has gone to see Marlena he goes to her to make sure she’s alright. As a result of the visit, Jacob and Marlena make love and then confess their love to each other. Marlena returns to the circus but refuses to let August near her, and finds out she’s pregnant. Uncle Al is furious with this and Jacob discovers one night while he was luckily away from his room, that his friends have indeed been red lighted. What follows is the climax of the story so I’ll tell no more.
What I loved most about this book was the delicious but of poet justice during the climax of this story. The characters are so real, there is a bit of humor, a bit of sadness, a bit of every emotion really. As I read I found myself becoming as emotionally attached to Rosie the elephant as I was to the rest of the characters. The story just unravels so smoothly and I honestly couldn’t think of anything to make it better. It is very rare for me to want to reread a story once I know how it all comes together, however, when I reread this one I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. There are these little moments the slip through the cracks of your mind when you’re reading a book, little insignificant moments that just help build character or something, but I was so pleasantly surprised to realize that I thoroughly enjoyed rediscovering those moments as well. This one gets a bit recommendation from me and I hope you all get the same enjoyment out of this book that I did. Also, just an afterthought, there is a movie which is pretty decent and I also enjoyed, check that out too if you’re feeling up to it.