Sunday, March 20, 2011
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
Jamrach's Menagerie tells the story of a nineteenth-century street urchin named Jaffy Brown. Following an incident with an escaped tiger, Jaffy goes to work for Mr. Charles Jamrach, the famed importer of exotic animals, alongside Tim, a good but sometimes spitefully competitive boy. Thus begins a long, close friendship fraught with ambiguity and rivalry.
Mr. Jamrach recruits the two boys to capture a fabled dragon during the course of a three-year whaling expedition. Onboard, Jaffy and Tim enjoy the rough brotherhood of sailors and the brutal art of whale hunting. They even succeed in catching the reptilian beast.
But when the ship’s whaling venture falls short of expectations, the crew begins to regard the dragon—seething with feral power in its cage—as bad luck, a feeling that is cruelly reinforced when a violent storm sinks the ship.
Drifting across an increasingly hallucinatory ocean, the survivors, including Jaffy and Tim, are forced to confront their own place in the animal kingdom. Masterfully told, wildly atmospheric, and thundering with tension, Jamrach’s Menagerie is a truly haunting novel about friendship, sacrifice, and survival.
I was actually whimpering when this book ended. I was hoping the pages would multiply as I got nearer the end, unweaving word after word like the waves on the cover, but, alas, I had to content myself with finishing it. I received this book from Goodreads Giveaway Program, and I would love to kiss whatever random machine chose my name to receive this book.
The magic begins from the first line, when the narrator cheekily tells us he was born twice. From then on, the madness winds around the reader, pulling us into a world of chirping birds, sibling rivalry and a dragon hunt that leads Jaffy, the narrator, and his friend Tim into the jaws of the ocean.
That’s when the story becomes a feverish blur of suspense that manages to describe the atrocities a shipwrecked crew must submit to with a cleverness that does not allow the true madness of their actions to touch us until after the book is done.
That is when the aftertaste of salt water and smoky meat floods our mouths in a bitter stew that will nevertheless leave us with hunger for more.
I better see a line in the bookstores to buy this in June.