“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
In this stunning work of historical fiction, the Booker Prize–nominated author of Jamrach’s Menagerie reimagines the incredible true story of Julia Pastrana, a woman branded a freak at birth. Although she was 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 was fluent in English, French, and Spanish, and an accomplished musician with an exquisite singing voice. Alternately vilified and celebrated, all she wanted was for people to see beyond her hairy visage—and perhaps, the chance for love. When Julia meets a charming showman who catapults her onto the global stage, she believes that she has found true happiness at last. But the question of whether her lover truly cares for her—or if his management is just a new form of exploitation—lingers heavily. A deeply moving novel, in Orphans of the Carnival Carol Birch has crafted 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 long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and Jamrach’s Menagerie, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist and long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.
“Tender and shocking.” —The Guardian
“Enjoyable and moving. . . . If readers can resist looking [to] the internet before finishing the novel, they will be rewarded by the sort of bizarre twist that can happen only in real life.” —Financial Times
“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
“Strange and beautiful. . . . Captures the lost world of carnivals and smoky backstreet theatres with hallucinatory vividness.” —The Times (London)
“[Birch’s] latest heroine is her most spectacular yet. The bare facts of Julia Pasterna’s brief and poignant life read like a piece of extravagant magic realism.” —The Times Literary Supplement