It's not very often that I find myself crying because of a book. Usually if I do, it's because I either get a paper cut or the book is so horrible that it makes me miserable.
Not so with this book.
The story starts with a stampede and a murder at the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jacob Jankowski, Cornell-educated veterinarian, is witness. In the book, he tells the story of how he ran away from his life and joined the circus. What starts as a cliche turns into a touching story of a man who comes of age during the Great Depression and navigates the treacherous waters of a traveling circus. Gruen's characters are vividly painted, from the blustery ring top leader (who is not a Benzini Brother), to the star of the equestrian act, and to the "great gray hope" of the show, elephant Rosie.
Gruen's inspiration to write about a Depression-era circus came from an article she read in the Chicago Tribune about circus photographer Edward Kelty. She writes about the circus in times before political correctness spelled the end of the "freak show" (the Lovely Lucinda was Uncle Al's underweight fat lady--she was no 850 lbs) and the pressures from PETA. Gruen also highlighted the behind-the-scenes back-stabbing as well as the competition among the various circus outfits. A bonus were the added circus photographs from the great depression, which added realism to a wonderful story.
I would definitely recommend this novel. It's a modern historical fiction with elements of mystery and a twist on a murder.