This is one of those books that leaves you wondering whether you just read an adventure, a romance, a tragedy or a memoir. The protagonist experiences the extremes of what go into human relationships both situationally and emotionally. Hate, love, friendship, grief, and the great internal struggles endured really make this book hard to put down.
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The story revovles around young Jacob, a student of veterinary medicine at Cornell in his final weeks of school. Right before his final exams he receives news of both his parents’ demise in a car accident. Jacob later discovers that his father, a veterinarian, has been working for things like eggs and butter instead of money as a result of The Great Depression. He also discovers his parents took out a mortgage on their house to pay for his Cornell education. With their death, the bank possesses everything and Jacob is left with no family, home, or future. Unable to complete the final exams due to emotional trauma, he is also left without a degree. He runs away and winds up hitching a ride with a circus train where he is almost thrown out but then kept on as their ‘Cornell Educated Veterinarian”.
Through this venue he meets several people that will change his life, including Marlena, the beautiful horse tamer, who is married to August, who I can only describe as the violent and charming bipolar animal director. He also meets Walter, his unwilling bunkmate dwarf and Camel, the drunk who gets him onto the show to begin with. Navigating the climate of depression and prohibition, Jacob learns more about himself as he falls in love, becomes a man, and has to fight to save everything that’s important to him.
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I appreciated the way the story was told, from the point of view of old Jacob in a nursing home. It adds a level of understanding we cannot achieve if the story was just told from the time period in which it happened.
The book starts out kind of slow but picks up steam as the history lesson subsides and the adventure starts. The language is simple and it’s an easy read. Now that they aremaking it into a movie I can’t wait to see it! There was so much emotion in the book I think they’ll have a hard time translating it to the screen but I’m never a person who compares the book and the movie so I’ll probably enjoy it anyway since the premise isn’t overused in Hollywood.
It’s a thrilling book and it’s so popular you can probably pick it up off a thrift store bookshelf by now for a dollar or something. I say it’s worth a read.