Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Orphans of the Carnival

Title:  Orphans of the Carnival
Author:  Carol Birch
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2016. 352 pages.
ISBN:  038554152X / 978-0385541527

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This is where your lost toys went, the one the dog chewed, the one your mother threw out without asking when you left home, the ones you always wondered about."

Favorite Quote:  "Names are important ... When a thing has a name, that's when it really counts."

Julia Pastrana is a young woman who speaks multiple languages and sings and dances beautifully. She performs on stages around the world. She learns how to manage her career from a business perspective. Yet, none of that is her claim to fame and none of that is why she is remembered. Her place in history is because of her physical appearance. She is billeted on the freak show circuit by different names - ugliest woman, half ape, half bear, and monkey woman to name a few.

I started reading this book wondering at the author's imagination in creating the character and the world she inhabits. Then, I started the book over when I discovered that Julia Pastrana actually existed. She was a real woman, and this story is a fictionalized account of what her life may have been. The shell of the story is fact based; the details are the fiction. This realization totally changed my outlook on the book and my feelings towards the characters.

Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico in 1834 with a genetic disorder and a rare disease. As a result, her face and body were covered with hair. Her facial features were large and irregular. The whole, put together, gave her an animal like look. Underneath the physical appearance, Julia was a young woman with a great capacity to love and a young woman looking to be loved for who she was not what she looked like.

The way in which this story is told is interesting and unclear until close to the end of the book. The bulk of the story is Julia's. In a nutshell, this story is Julia's quest for acceptance and love. It seems, at time, that she may have found it. Fame, success, financial stability, love, marriage, and children all may be possible. I hope such a life is possible for Julia. The book is slow-paced, traveling the world but revolving around this main theme until a major twist.

Throughout, the book moves between Julia's search and segments from the life of a young woman in the 1980s. Rose is alone and a collector of old broken things that others have forgotten. At first, no connection exists between the two. Rose is an interesting character on her own, but it's unclear what role she plays in Julia's story. Eventually, the two stories are connected in a tragic and horrifying way that compounds the impact of Julia's story.

The twist in this story is just that - a twist I could not have seen coming. Without a spoiler, I will say that this story is so unbelievable that it could only be true. I did look up a biography, and the gist of what the book describes is actually what happened to her.

Juila Pastrana was real, and her search for love and the world's judgment on appearance are universal. It is these facts that hold my attention in this book. I want to know what happens to Julia, and I hope that things work out for her. I grieve at the eventual outcome. Julia Pastrana's story is one I will remember for along time.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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