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“Orphans of the Carnival is the story of a time when the oddities of nature could be a lucrative path to fame and fortune. Although heartbreaking, it is the wonderful journey of a talented woman who just wants a normal life, in spite of being alternately vilified and celebrated. Filled with many unforgettable characters and amazing writing, this is a book that will stay with readers for a long time.”
— Mary McBride, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, KS
From the Booker short-listed author of Jamrach's Menagerie comes the extraordinary, moving, and unsettling tale of a woman, branded a freak from birth, who becomes an international sensation but longs for genuine human connection
London had the best freaks, always had. The Egyptian Hall, the Promenade of Wonders, the Siamese twins, pinheads, midgets, cannibals, giants, living skeletons, the fat, the hairy, the legless, the armless, the noseless, London had seen it all. In the Hall of Ugliness the competition was stiff. But noone had ever seen anything quite like Julia . . .
Pronounced by the most eminent physician of the day to be "a true hybrid wherein the nature of woman presides over that of the brute," Julia Pastrana stood apart from the other carnival acts. She was fluent in English, French and Spanish, an accomplished musician with an exquisite singing voice, equally at ease riding horseback and turning pirouettes—but all anyone noticed was her utterly unusual face. Alternately vilified and celebrated, Julia toured through New Orleans, New York, London, Berlin, Vienna, and Moscow, often hobknobbing with high society as she made her fame and fortune. Beneath the flashy lights and thunderous applause lies a bright, compassionate young woman who only wants people to see beyond her hairy visage—and perhaps, the chance for love. When Julia visits a mysterious shaman in the back alleys of New Orleans, he gives her a potion and says that she'll find a man within the year. Sure enough, Julia soon meets Theodore Lent, a boyishly charming showman who catapults Julia onto the global stage. As they travel the world, the two fall into an easy intimacy, but the question of whether Theo truly cares for Julia or if his management is just a gentler form of exploitation lingers heavily with every kind word and soft embrace. Stunningly written and deeply compelling, Orphans of the Carnival is a haunting examination of how we define ourselves and, ultimately, of what it means to be human.
About the Author
CAROL BIRCH is the author of eleven previous novels, including Turn Again Home, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Jamrach's Menagerie, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.
An IndieNext List and USA Today Pick
“Think Love Potion #9 meets The Night Circus and yet wholly unique and fantastic in its own right.” --Marie Claire
"If readers can resist looking Pastrana up on the internet before finishing the novel, they will be rewarded by the sort of bizarre twist that can happen only in real life. ...enjoyable and moving" --The Financial Times
"Roll up, roll up, for a beautifully written novel about the poignant inner life of 19th-century touring freakshow attraction Julia Pastrana" --The Guardian
“Birch’s novel does more than tell the story of a woman and performer, it brings to light the dangers of exploitation and dehumanization. With great sensitivity and compassion, Birch reclaims Julia Pastrana’s humanity and offers an opportunity to see this woman the way she should have been seen more than 150 years ago.” --Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"A strange, transfixing novel....gorgeously written...Orphans of the Carnival is about how we can find humanity in all fellow creatures, which is surely a message worth pondering now more than ever." --Bookpage