I remember going to the circus when I was a kid, and being completely awed by the experience. Don't read this book if that's what you're looking for. This book does not allow one to recapture that feeling. This book shows the dirty, stinking underbelly that is the stuff you don't see at the circus... The travel conditions, the class hierarchy and segregation, the hand-me-down animals and performers, the cut-throat tactics, which all make up the real (or at least closer to real) truth behind the motto "The Show Must Go On".
This book has gotten rave reviews from just about everyone that has read it. I can't really say the same. The book was interesting, yes, but I found myself more concerned for the animals than the characters. I wasn't really surprised by any of the situations that the characters found themselves in after I realized how things stood in their circus-world. Nothing stood out and made me think, "Wow. Who could have called THAT one?"
This book felt rushed to me, as if Gruen was on a deadline and was going to clean up/add the details but just didn't have time. A lot of the circus life and associated terminology was never explained to my satisfaction. For example, what is a "roustabout" and what are they responsible for doing? From what I could tell, their job was to lay down hay when there was a full house.
Also, the relationships between the characters could have been more fully fleshed out. I feel like some of the characters were caricatures, and that's never really a good thing. Flaws are good, yes, but nothing but flaws is bad. I did like Jacob as an old man, and I liked the ending of the story. I thought it was perfectly fitting, but again it felt rushed, and that made it a little unbelievable.
I don't mean all of this to say that it wasn't a good book, because it was OK... I just expected more from it.