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Orphans of the Carnival

Cover of Orphans of the Carnival

Orphans of the Carnival

A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor's ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women. But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways.
A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor's ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women. But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways.
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About the Author-
  • Carol Birch is the author of ten previous novels, including Scapegallows (2008) and Turn Again Home (2003) which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She has also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the David Higham Award for Best First Novel. Jamrach's Menagerie was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 26, 2016
    Birch’s vivid novel is about the life of an infamous Mexican orphan named Julia Pastrana. The performer (based on a real person who lived from 1834 to 1860) first appeared on the carnival stage in New Orleans in the mid-1800s. She was a slight girl with delicate feet who sang, danced, and spoke several languages. She’s also described as having the face of an ape, her body covered with hair (“ ‘It’s not fur,’ she always scolded, ‘it’s hair.’ ”). As in her previous novel, the Booker-nominated Jamrach’s Menagerie, Birch follows a forgotten historical figure living in an age when Darwin was the rage and the boundaries of society were strict. Julia seemed an ordinary girl who worked hard to perfect her act as she traveled the world, from New York to London, Berlin to St. Petersburg. Though it’s arguable that she’s not being exploited by the minders, rubes, and carnival folk with whom she travels, Julia accepts the dastardly marriage proposal of Theo Lent, her manager. Along the road, Julia and Theo meet many colorful people, some grand and some who cannot come to terms with what Julia is. Woven into this historical narrative is the story of a 21st-century girl called Rose, an endearing hoarder who has found a doll in a rubbish bin in London that was once a beloved possession of Julia’s. Rose is a memorable character, and the rest of the cast of misfits, dolls, and bad guys are just as full of nuance. Among the novel’s many pleasures are Birch’s compelling turns of phrase, and an immersive, melancholy milieu.

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Orphans of the Carnival
Orphans of the Carnival
Carol Birch
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