#51 – Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch

London, 1857: meet Jaf, a young street urchin who survives an encounter with an escaped tiger in the city’s East End and stumbles into a job for its owner, Mr. Jamrach, a collector and seller of wild animals.

Commissioned by Jamrach to find and collect a half-mythical dragon, Jaf joins a whaling ship headed south and begins a wonder-filled voyage of discovery. But when disaster befalls the crew, Jaf ’s journey becomes a desperate survival tale that pushes love, friendship and humanity to their outermost limits.

Beautifully written and utterly spellbinding, Jamrach’s Menagerie conjures the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the squalor of Victorian London to the lush islands of the Dutch East Indies. A great, salty, historical adventure, with an extraordinary story of love and sacrifice at its core, this book is an astonishing literary achievement. – Publishers Website

I really enjoyed this novel.  With Jaf learning the animal trade as you would call it by being hands on, he realizes that he is doing something he enjoys, as well as learning about all sorts of new and unknown things.  Then comes the ship, with all of its quirky, but hard-working crew.  Some of the crew will never know just how much they gave.  It will only be two people on the boat who will fully know that.  Will they talk about it? Will they agonize over their dire straits and do the unthinkable?  You will just have to read the novel to find out just how much the crew sacrificed.  It was a bit unsettling for me, but Carol swept me up in the narrative, and ultimately spat me out, it was that good, between the long tales the crew told, the adventures, the drink, the animal (at least I think it was an animal) they search for, as well as the sacrifices they all give.  Will they come back the same as when they left?  You will have to be the judge about that.

Jamrach’s Menagerie was long-listed for the 2011 Orange Prize.


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