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.
The book is about life, love, friendship, journeys, life at sea, survival, caring for animals, and coming to terms with tragedy and death, all told against the backdrop of 19th century life. Carol Birch is an amazing writer, not merely a talented one - she's a GREAT contemporary writer - and Jamrach's Menagerie is a book that you really MUST read - Elizabeth K (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
The Washington Post
For a new salty adventure across the watery part of the world, you won’t find a better passage than Jamrach’s Menagerie.
[H]er salty historical adventure set on the perilous ocean….[is] potentially a career-defining book…..visceral and primal….and though this is very much an adventure story, the writing is thoughtful and elevating as well as effortlessly readable…..Birch transfers that passion for history to the page…[in] vivid style.
Birch's writing is assured and enticing, and she's especially talented at creating floating, still moments amid the action...
Starred Review. She is...a brilliant stylist; reader her is like Christmas, every word being a gift to the reader. Though Birch is an established writer in England, this is her first novel to be published in the U.S. One fervently hopes it will not be the last.
Starred Review. A magical, literary novel puts a surreal spin on a coming-of-age seafaring saga.
Financial Times (UK)
An exuberant tale of sea-faring, exotic fauna and drunken shore leave... [Birch's] prose has an irresistible vigor... her words sing on the page...
The Daily Mail (UK)
Carol Birch's storytelling excels... [Birch] produces a sustained feat of imagination and diligent research.
The Times (UK)
An imaginative tour-de-force, encompassing the sights and smells of 19th-century London and the wild sea.... It's gripping, superbly written and a delight.
Sunday Times (UK)
Riveting... Birch is masterful at evoking period and place... [A] teeming exhibition of the beautiful and the bizarre, and its serious ideas about the relationship between mankind and the natural world are communicated with such delicacy of touch that they never slow down the propulsive telling of the story or dim the brilliance of the prose.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Samantha H. (Golden, CO) Jamrach's Menagerie - truly an adventure Jamrach's Menagerie is a compelling story of a boy swept away on a seafaring adventure. I got completely caught up in the story of Jaffy and Tim, and watching how adventure and strife shape their lives. Very well written. I highly recommend this... Read More
Rated of 5
by Paula W. (Sarasota, FL) A Truly Terrible Book From the very first paragraph..."I was born twice. First in a wooden room...,and then again...in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth...." - this novel was full of terrible and awful events.
Jaffey's adventures are terrifying and... Read More
Rated of 5
by Ginger K. (Ballwin, MO) A tale of tales I found this book to be story and temperament in the tradition of Dickens which in my view is excellent. The story of animal loving seafaring young men is a winner. There is enough fantasy mixed with grueling reality and exotic animals to remind... Read More
Rated of 5
by Sharon W. (Two Rivers, WI) Jamarach's Menagerie If you like mystery and suspense, you will definitely love this one. I wasn't so sure about it in the beginning, but it reeled me right in. Once it got me, it was hard to put down till I finished. From being almost eaten alive by a tiger to... Read More
Rated of 5
by Carol J. (Isle, MN) Jamrach's Menagerie What a great adventure! A well told, exciting historical novel. Ms. Birch brings the reader right along on all of Jaffy's adventures. She skillfully gives the reader a glimpse of the lives of seafarers in the 19th century. Plus, the added dimension... Read More
Rated of 5
by Mark O. (Wenatchee, WA) Surviving Life Jamrach’s Menagerie is a legitimate heir of Dickens. Jaffee Brown, a young boy, is growing up in a squalid part of Victorian London, where children have early-onset adulthood. The weird luck of being carried about in the jaws of an escaped tiger... Read More
Charles Jamrach, The Essex and The Custom of The Sea
Jamrach's Menagerie borrows from a number of historical events and people including:
Charles Jamrach's father was chief of the Hamburg River Police, a position that enabled him to establish himself as a dealer in wild birds and animals. When his father died around 1840, Charles moved from Germany to take over the London branch of business. Before long he was one of London's leading importers, breeders, and exporters of animals with both a shop, Jamrach's Emporium, and a menagerie.
In 1857, a Bengal tiger escaped from the Emporium, carrying off a young boy. Jamrach saved the boy who seemed relatively uninjured, and offered £50 in compensation, but the boy's father sued for £300. The family ended up with £60, while the lawyers got £240 (as the French would say, plus ça change!) A recently erected statue by Tanya Russell...
At once a realistic, rousing adventure and a meta-tale of survival that explores the redemptive power of storytelling and the transformative nature of fiction. It's a story, as one character puts it, to make you believe in God. Winner of the 2002 Booker Prize.
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