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Orphans of the Carnival

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  1,245 ratings  ·  261 reviews
The dazzling new novel, evoking the strange and thrilling world of the Victorian carnival, from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Jamrach's Menagerie.

A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden

Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Y
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 1st 2016 by Canongate
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Jamie Stanley Yes, the majority of the characters in the book were actual historical figures.

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Average rating 3.37  · 
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Aug 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
About a third of the way into this book, I realised it was based on a true story. And what an incredible story it is! Suddenly this novel warped form being a tale about a circus freak to one about a real woman and that totally changed my relationship with the characters.

Julia Pastrana was born with hair all over her face and body, a large thrusting jaw and a double set of teeth. Born in Mexico in the 19th century, she was protected by her family and lived in the Governor's household where she wa
Dannii Elle
I received this in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you the author, Carol Birch, and the publisher, Canongate Books, for this opportunity.

First of all, can I just address how beautiful this cover is! That, alongside the intriguing title, immediately engaged my shallow attention. The allusion to this being a story along the vein of The Night Circus also had me hooked! I would say the latter is a weak connection, as the only real similarity is the carnival/circus setting that ta
♥ Sandi ❣
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ♥ Sandi ❣ by: Turning Pages group of GR
Having just read the non-fiction book Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South about two young albino boys stolen and displayed as freaks in the circus, I was hesitant to read this book right away. However, knowing that this story was fiction - based on fact - made it a book that was so close in story that I wanted to compare the two. I am happy that I did.
Julia Pastrana and her son Theo Jr. both led tragic lives, which became much more so a
Sonja Arlow
There are 2 reasons I have decided to round off this rating to 3 stars although I found a lot I didn’t like in the story.

Firstly, I have been going through a bad reading phase and at this point I am not sure if I can trust my own judgement anymore and secondly, I was so shocked to learn that the main character in this story, Julia, actually did exist in the mid 18’hundreds I had to go dig out a picture of her and that changed my view of the story slightly.


What can be more fascinating than a book
Jun 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: arc, fiction
That wasn't fun.

I do not know what I expected of this book, but this wasn't it. It is not necessarily a bad book, it just wasn't one I enjoyed at all.

This books tells the story Julia Patrana's life - a woman living in the 19th century whose whole body was covered in hair and who performed on various stages (singing and dancing - but to be fair most people came to gawk). I figured reading about her life will be fascinating but somehow it really wasn't. The reason why I found it hard to care was
Bam cooks the books ;-)
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bam cooks the books ;-) by: Doubleday Keep Turning Pages
Orphans of the Carnival is a fascinating work of historical fiction based on the life of Julia Pastrana who lived from 1834-1860 and was the great curiosity of her time. She was born in the mountains of Culiacan, Mexico, where she was abandoned by her mother and eventually adopted into the home of Don Pedro where she worked as a servant.

The woman we meet in these poignant pages is quite smart and talented--she speaks three languages, can sing, dance and play guitar and often performs for the gu
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
I think everyone who reads this book should go into it knowing that it’s a novel with its feet firmly based on facts. I did, and it gave me a huge empathy with the main character Julia Pastrana, a woman who really existed, the notorious ape woman of Mexico who toured the world with Victorian freak shows. Just Google her name and you’ll find the original playbills for the carnivals she starred in and her photograph which haunted me throughout the book.
Oh my Gosh, did people really ostracise and
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have read this book knowing nothing about the author, though being short listed for Man Booker prize (albeit for a different novel) is certainly a strong recommendation. I would have read this book even if I hadn't known it was actually based on real individuals. I would have read this book because I'm absolutely enamored by circuses, sideshows, freaks and all that. Not to mention my love for historical fiction. Not to mention my love for a good story well told. This book was all I expec ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
“When you think about it- every person’s like a museum of their life.”

(visit my blog

Oh my heart! My heart is still healing from this novel. Julia Pastrana was a born ‘freak’, but an accomplished very talented one who was a dancer, a performer, could speak several languages and could both charm and horrify people. But like many women, all she wanted was to be loved for who she was beneath her ‘animal countenance’. Everyone knows no man could ever look up
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I entered the Goodreads giveaway for this book because the description reminded me of Geek Love, one of my favorite novels. Happily I won the giveaway, and started reading, the book initially reminding me more of the HBO series Carnivale. But even that comparison faded as I read deeper into the novel. I loved this book. First of all, the prose is absolutely gorgeous. I was unfamiliar with Carol Birch, though she's written many previous novels. I will seek those out, as she is an amazing writer. ...more
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Firstly, thanks to the publisher for a free copy via the Goodreads Keep Turning Pages discussion group. I think I might have enjoyed this even more if I had been aware it is a work of historical fiction--Julia was real. Honestly, it took almost half the book before I was truly vested in reading it. However, in all fairness my life has been rather hectic these past few weeks, and I suspect that had more to do with my reading experience than the book/writing style itself. It is a fascinating premi ...more
Julia Pastrana is mistaken for a werewolf or the Missing Link. Though she can speak three languages, strangers think she can't speak at all. Julia Pastrana was actually a living woman with hypertrichosis, an abnormal amount of hair grows on the body. Having two rows of teeth and bigger mouth didn't help her being confused for a monster in the mid 19th century. Julia's obvious path was to join circus life, and other things in her life made her story stranger than fiction. Here, Carol Birch reimag ...more
Mary Eve
Wow! What a fascinating story!! Although I'm familiar with hypertrichosis, I'd never before heard of Julia Pastrana, the woman who's life Carol Birch based this story on. Pastrana lived a sad yet remarkable life. I say sad because of the way she was treated as a freak of nature and put on display to perform day after day, year after year in front of gawking crowds. However, Julia Pastrana was immensely popular and famous. She was paid handsomely for each performance and turned her misfortunes in ...more
Although I had no idea until after I read it that this was based on a real woman, I certainly found many things about this fictionalized version of her life believable. Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico, abandoned by her mother and raise by a governor. As a young woman she left for the US where she began her performing career, being views as a monster and a freak by many, although she spoke three languages fluently, was literate, could sing, dance and play both the harmonica and guitar. Birch ha ...more
nikkia neil
This book will blow people's socks off! Carol Birch takes just the right tone for this novel. I will not forget this book for a long time. ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars...I had no idea that this was based on true events until the end.
Vaiomo ♡
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: on-my-shelf
Meh, got pretty boring at the halfway point
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Julia Pastrana has an exceptional story. A Mexican orphan who was taken in by a family who raised her, taught her to sing, dance and play instruments. When the elderly lady she was tasked with looking after passes away, Julia decides to go on the road, using her talents and irregular appearance to make money and see the world. Meeting others like herself, misfits and the wonderfully different, she travels America, doing shows, appearing in carnivals and participating in high profile events.

The s
Yzabel Ginsberg
[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley.]

This novel is based on the story of Julia Pastrana, a perforrmer and "freak" who lived in the 19th century; more than the typical "woman with a beard", Julia was covered in hair, and had a facial condition that made her look like an ape. Throughout the story, we get to see here leave her hometown and the house where she had lived, to perform with a troupe, then with independent managers. More than a mere attraction, Julia sang and danced beauti
Andrea van Wyk
Sep 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
It is rare for me not to finish a book. Even if I find something boring or silly, I'll usually slog through it while reading something else. But no matter how hard I tried, I just could not get further than page 210 of Carol Birch's Orphan's of the Carnival - about halfway. I'm a fast reader but it took me months to reach the point where I decided to throw in the towel. I simply have too many unread books scattered across my flat and publishers keep sending me more.

I had never read any of Birch
This book definitely has its ups and downs. The story is interesting in itself. It starts with Julia, a hairy female, leaving her home to join circus and perform for money. She lives with other performers like tiny human, girl without arms, girl without legs, etc. I loved learning about the issue of her walking into the city, having to cover up, her dealing with contracts, the circus setting and the whole new world. Then she is sold to another manager and goes on solo tour. This is where the sto ...more
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
I have to stop buying these Victorian Era carnival/freak show/circus books. I'm fascinated by the subject and the time period, but it doesn't seem to make for good fiction very often. I've read a ton of novels focused on this stuff, and they're basically all the same general story and almost never any good.

Sadly, this book was no exception, and below average even among a sub-genre that is already below average collectively.

Birch writes prettily, but the book is repetitive, irritating, and dull.
I enjoyed this book but felt it was overlong. It's well-written and the exploration of the characters at the start is very good; and the denouement is good too, if a little rushed. But there is a lengthy middle section where it meanders quite a bit, to the extent I was tempted to abandon, and I have some sympathy for a great many of the reviewers who did just that, right in the middle of that section. The more novels I read the more I appreciate novellas and short stories.

BTW - I did NOT receive
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Thank you Goodreads for sending me an ARC of this book. Perhaps I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate this book. It started out well but quickly became a long drawn out dither. When Julia is with her first troupe there are plenty of interesting characters, when she hooks up with Theo life becomes humdrum and so does the story. We move to Prague. Will Theo lose Julia? We move to Vienna. Will Theo lose Julia? You get the idea. And I have no idea what Rose's modern day storyline was supposed t ...more
Jun 25, 2016 rated it did not like it
*Received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review*
This book is so poorly written that it is almost unreadable. The premise is quite interesting but the long-winded descriptions and uneventful storyline had me losing interest very quickly. Cannot say more because I couldn't read more than half before I gave up.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy books that revolve around a circus, I have no idea why I enjoy these so much but I always love them, so when I saw this book I was intrigued and excited.

The book follows Julia Pastrana, a woman born in Mexico in 1834 with two severe genetic malformations that resulted in her body being covered in hair and in her having a protruding mouth and lips with two rows of teeth. After being spotted by someone in the circus industry, Julia ended up joining the circus and travelled the worl
I'm usually a very fast reader, but I definitely took my time with this one. I came upon this book at The Dollar Tree (yay for books that only cost a buck) and I'm so glad I picked it up. I was immediately drawn to the cover of the book, definitely for the name as well as the title. While it is a very sad story, it is a very fulfilling one. To know (after the fact) that Julia Pastrana was a real person, has really made me feel more connected to the story. And to see what Theo went through after ...more
Olga Miret
Aug 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The sad story of an incredible historical figure and an exploited woman Thanks to NetGalley and to Canongate book for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Although I’ve never been to a circus I’ve always been interested in stories, books, films and artworks about the circus. And I’ve never forgotten the movie Freaks (1932) directed by Tod Browning, that is as beautiful and touching as it is horrifying (not because of the ‘freaks’ of the story, but because of th
Amber Eats Books
DNFed at 75 pages.

I have been trying to get into this story for days without success. The main character Julia was interesting but didn't elicit an emotional connection from me. I also felt that the modern storyline didn't add anything to the overall plot. Those sections seemed out of place. I did enjoy the writing style so I may check out another book by this author.
Susan Zinner
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Fictionalized story of the woman Juliana Pastrana, who toured the world in the 1800s as an oddity due to her genetic condition; she was sometimes called the "ape woman" and she sang and danced. It's a sad story where she was used by some people to make them rich. I didn't enjoy this book as much as Birch's "Jamrach's Menagerie." Still an interesting tale... ...more
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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.

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