A thrilling and powerful novel about a young boy lured to sea by the promise of adventure and reward, with echoes of Great Expectations, Moby-Dick, and The Voyage of the Narwhal.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
"One of the best stories I’ve ever read; an extraordinarily good and completely original book." (A. S. Byatt, author of The Children's Book in a BBC Interview)
Transcendently researched, unsparing and hypnotic, Jamrach's Menagerie takes us to the edge of endurance where it becomes impossible to distinguish the captor from the captive. Carol Birch's urgent and wise story goes far beyond any whaling expedition, plumbing the depths of how we create our own humanity. It is a thrill to welcome this remarkable novelist to a larger American audience." (Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger)
“[T]here are enough strange sights, pervasive smells and sounds and curious characters to keep most novelists – and readers – going strong for three times the number of pages that there are here… a rather subtler story of the hazy line between camaraderie and rivalry and of the bonds both forged and broken in extreme adversity… Birch does more than simply recreate history… she conjures something far stranger and less immediately graspable than a straightforward recitation of facts would allow. Jaffy's journey is suffused with yearning – to find his place in the fluid but implacable hierarchy of the seamen, to understand the mysteries of the sea and its creatures and of the unknown and unknowable places that he witnesses… rendered with exceptional control, elucidating the see-sawing bond between Jaffy and Tim and the gradual disintegration of the sailors' bodies and minds… Birch has spun us a captivating yarn of high seas and even higher drama.” (The Guardian)
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Fun & Meaningful
Heartbreaking, Disturbing and Depressing