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Rosemary K. (Saginaw, MI)
Don't give up!
Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie is not really my type of book at all. Following the adventures of a street urchin who gets involved with exotic animals and goes to sea does not pique my curiosity.
Alison W. (Woodinville, Washington)
Nevertheless, I soldiered on and slowly, gradually, the author won me over. The agonies endured at sea placed me squarely out there with the struggling boys and men. I suffered through the ghastly decisions they had to make; I thirsted for the small amounts of water they were allowed to drink.
So, instead of putting the book in a donation box, it's in my bookcase, right where it belongs: with other wonderfully-told books of challenges at sea.
I fully enjoyed Jamrach's Menagerie. It is a wonderful book written in beautiful, lyrical prose. It's a compelling story that has everything: love, deep friendship, and thrilling adventure. Ms. Birch has the rare ability to make the reader feel as if they are experiencing what her characters are... which is not always a good thing. The reader can smell the sea and taste the salt.
Debra P. (Belmont, NC)
Adventure and Fantasy
I found it to be a delicious and satisfying read.. it left me hungering for more.
Reminds me a little bit of a J.K. Rowling and Dickens book. The story is interesting, centered around a "street urchin" and his rival/friend and their adventures. I believe there are some interesting lessons given on friendship and survival. Well written and a good read.
Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)
Jamrach's Menagerie~Darwinian themes throughout
The beautifully lyrical imagery of the prose in Jamrach’s Menagerie draws the reader into the 19th Century world of those who collect of exotic species, of sea adventure and misadventure, of friendship and camaraderie, of the wonder and awe of nature, of the nature of man and beast and the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest. This well researched story takes place in the waning years of whale fishing and vividly describes the treacherous hunt and kill of the whale followed by the harvesting and processing of the blubber and oil which left the ship and its mates covered in blood and gore and caked with the salt from the sea air. This excursion also includes a special commission to capture a mythical dragon believed to live in the islands of Indonesia.
Linda C. (Carlisle, MA)
Despite the beautiful writing, parts of this book were difficult for me to read and I cannot say I really liked the story ~ a melding of “Moby Dick” and “The Donner Party” written by Dickens.
I fell deeply into an adventure that began with Jaffy Brown being rescued from the terrifying jaws of a tiger as it escaped down a London street. From here I was immersed deeper and deeper into a tale that was both magically engaging and outlandishly unbelievable. Birch has a way with words that transported me into this journey in a way that caused me to see very strange sights, smell a wide range of odors both good and bad, hear sounds foreign to my ears, and taste unimaginable horror. But underneath the intense experience was a powerful story of love and friendship. If you liked "The Life of Pi", this book might draw you in as well!
Elizabeth K. (Dallas, TX)
Jamrach's Menagerie - A Timeless Slice of Life
This book captured me from the very first line - "I was born twice." From the first scenes in the slums of London to the long journey on the high seas, I cared about Jaffy Brown and his fate. Some books are hard to read in the beginning and become easier as you go along, but Jamrach's Menagerie is the opposite. The grim chapters with Jaffy and his fellow survivors lost at sea were difficult to read, but I had to know what happened and how he came to terms with the tragedies he survived. 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.
Bea C. (Liberty Lake, WA)
While the writing was great, very descriptive and made me feel like I was there, it is something I don't want to relive. The first half of the book was a wonderfully adventurous sea voyage, but I can't recommend this book to anyone I can think of since it is too unsettling and too detailed. I finished it a few hours ago and I am still sad, thirsty and feel dehydrated, but have no appetite. I wish it had ended differently.
Shirley D. (Amherst, MA)
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
For one interested in the 19th century, in the business of selling wild animals and birds and in the whaling industry, this is a treasure.. For one who can distinguish and accept the reality closely interwoven with fantasy, it is a must. The reader who pays close attention to Birch’s marvelous word pictures, will feel the swell of the sea, hear the scream of the sea birds, smell the stink of the vomit and shudder at the butchering of the whale. A masterful piece of writing, but one that I would recommend only to those I knew had a mature imagination. It is not a fairy tale for children.