I received a free copy of Orphans of the Carnival for my honest review.
About the Book:
About the Author:
CAROL BIRCH’s most recent novel, Jamrach’s Menagerie, was long-listed for the Orange Prize and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Previously she was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the David Higham Award.
I found the synopsis of this book intriguing; it is certainly a book outside of my usual reading even though it is technically historical fiction. Julia Pastrana is a young girl in Mexico with a number of birth defects including being covered with hair all over her body. She had been rescued from an orphanage and taken into the care of some people who if they didn’t love her they did at least keep her safe. As she gets older Julia starts to want more from her life and so when an opportunity arises to perform with a troupe of sorts she takes it.
What I didn’t realize when I started the book was that Julia Pastrana was a real person. This sent me down a google rabbit hole until I learned about this amazing woman. It made me wonder if she had been born in modern times if she would have had a longer life. I don’t know if she would have been treated any better – in fact some ways I suspect it would have been worse given the state of today’s society.
The story is fictional but it does follow the course of Julia’s life as she becomes a bit of sensation as a performer; she sings and dances and then reveals her face to the audience who predictably react in shock. As time goes on she starts to wonder if she is nothing but an oddity. She is intelligent, she can speak three languages and yet people do not believe she is a human being. What must it be like to have your basic humanity questioned?
Julia moves between promoters until she meets Theodore Lent. He is a mix of con man and entrepreneur. He takes Julia to Europe where her shows are received in varying degrees of popularity. She does seem to live a life that makes her happy. I don’t want to spoil that story although it is a part of the historical record. I would rather let the reader choose how they want to learn Julia’s fate.
I found this to be a fascinating read. It did get a little slow in places but that didn’t take away from the whole for me. The everyday minutia of Julia’s life helped to truly humanize her. She was a truly remarkable young woman to rise above her birth defects and push so hard for herself. It’s a lesson for those of us born with far fewer problems. I think she would have been fascinating to know.
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