Jamrach's Menagerie

Jamrach's Menagerie

A Novel

Book - 2011
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Random House, Inc.

SHORTLISTED for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

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.

Baker & Taylor
Recruited by a famed importer of exotic animals to capture a fabled dragon during a three-year whaling expedition, former street urchin Jaffy Brown and his friend and rival, Tim, successfully capture the beast only to find themselves targeted by superstitious sailors.

& Taylor

Recruited by a famed importer of exotic animals to capture a fabled dragon during a three-year whaling expedition, former street urchin Jaffy Brown and his friend and rival, Tim, successfully capture the beast only to find themselves targeted by superstitious sailors. By the award-winning author of Turn Again Home. 50,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York ; Toronto : Doubleday, c2011
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9781443405164
Branch Call Number: FIC BIR
Characteristics: 295 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.


From the critics

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May 31, 2013

A rollicking story of Victorian England and seafaring. I really enjoyed this from beginning to end. Great characters.

McIndoo Oct 17, 2012

A touch of Dickens and Melville and at the same time the story reminds you of Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" as well. Has some great descriptions of grimy London and whaling, and some other disturbing bits too (no spoiler alert here). Worth the read overall but it's not a 5 star book.

May 26, 2012

I've got so many reserved books arriving for me at the library these days that when Jamrach's Menagerie arrived for me, I couldn't even remember what had compelled me to reserve the book in the first place. Initially I thought the book was going to be about a boy who works for a man who sells exotic animals - and it was, for a bit - but I was delighted that the tale eventually became one about a whaling ship. For one reason or another, I went through a strange nautical phase in my reading when I was in my 20's - indeed, Nathaniel Philbrick's "Into the Heart of the Sea" (the true story of the whaling ship Essex and its survivors) was one of my favourites at that time. Author Carol Birch touches on the story of the Essex in this novel - indeed, the sailors in this novel who jokingly sing of the dire choices that Essex's crew was forced to make in order to survive their ordeal at sea must later face the same predicament. (This is not a book for the faint of heart). With lush, riveting language, the author juxtaposes incredible humanity against the basest animal instincts - I felt like I was there in the lifeboat with the others.

May 01, 2012

This book, in the end, seemed somewhat juvenile.

Jan 31, 2012

Really loved this book - full of life, adventure and humanity. The depictions of Victorian London and ship life were riveting!

Audrey E Shonn
Dec 23, 2011

A totally amazing story — one of those books that you never want to end, but you just can't put it down!

Nov 26, 2011

This was a rip-roaring read - sailing ships and Victorian street life. The story has the most riveting description of shipwreck survival I have every read - kept me on the edge of my seat for over 100 pages. I can see why it was short-listed for the Booker Prize this year.

Oct 13, 2011

Absolutely terrific storytelling! Not for the feint of heart as it is a graphic tale.

Oct 02, 2011

This book tells the story of the life adventures of a street kid called Jaffy during the 1800's in London. I really enjoyed this book but found the 1st half of the story was a bit disconnected from the 2nd half. It is a bit disturbing and graphic at times but I couldn't put it down during the last 100 pages.

Sep 24, 2011

The very beginning of the story was really intriguing and it really got me interested in where things might go next. However, the rest of the book just failed in keeping up the same strength as the start. First, there was a jump of a few years time, and a few references to what had happened in that time. If you have to do that already, you know something is a bit off. It just felt like the writing weakened greatly, and I ended up losing interest in the story after awhile.

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May 26, 2012

everydayathena thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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Dec 12, 2011

This wracking maritime psychodrama follows a young boy from his humble beginnings as a child laborer in late 19th-century London to the South Pacific, finding bits of whimsy and beauty in a chaotic story. Jaffy Brown's bleak young life in the slums takes a bright turn when he is carried off by an escaped tiger and wins the notice of Charles Jamrach, a purveyor of exotic animals. Jamrach gives Jaffy a job, and soon the boy is sent on a years-long journey to the South Pacific, where he is supposed to find a dragon. It becomes slowly evident that the dragon quest, which is dispatched in an anticlimax, works as a macguffin for a dark and drifting tale of woe on the high seas as Jaffy's expedition is beset by disasters sinister and otherworldly. Birch's writing is assured and enticing, and she's especially talented at creating floating, still moments amid the action, often as Jaffy pauses to foreshadow or ruminate. Readers will spend much time wondering where this gratifyingly bizarre story is going, though Birch's writing chops do much to smooth the way


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