A work of historical fiction following the prized African elephant who stole the show of the Barnum & Bailey Circus — and the hearts of people around the world — exploring exploitation, unrequited love, and the unbreakable bond between living things, from the author of The History of Rain.
There was, perhaps, no living creature more famous in the nineteenth century than Jumbo the elephant. Born in 1860 and taken from the wilds between Sudan and Eritrea at the age of two, he was sold to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and then to the London Zoological Gardens, before becoming the prized possession of notorious American showman P. T. Barnum. "Jumbomania" swept England, embroiled the Houses of Parliament, erupted into open warfare in the British and American press, and monopolized popular kitsch and culture. By the time Jumbo sailed into New York City in 1882, thousands scrambled for a chance to see "The Sun of the Amusement World."
In this magnificent feat of historical fiction, Jumbo's story is told by Little Eyes Nell Kelly, The World's Smallest Singing, Dancing, Horse-riding Woman and Barnum's star attraction. Initially jealous of her gargantuan new co-star, Nell keeps a close eye on Jumbo and his reclusive and dedicated trainer, Matthew Scott. But Nell soon realizes that she and Jumbo are simply two caged creatures in a circus full — and Jumbo's confinement is slowly killing him. As The Greatest Show on Earth criss-crosses North America, Nell must brave greedy circus showmen, backstabbing trapeze artists, and the relentless pursuit of the cruel animal trainer, Elephant Bill, to keep the curtain from closing on her career — and her very life.
Taking readers from the deserts of Sudan to Buckingham Palace, to the manor houses of Connecticut and the dizzying heights of the Brooklyn Bridge, and every "one-saloon-three-church town" in between, Jumbo is a menagerie of riotous colour that brings Jumbo's incredible story to life, and a masterful novel that explores exploitation, unrequited love, and the unbreakable bond between living things.
About the author
Stephens Gerard Malone wrote his first novel at twelve, inspired by a really nice cover on a book about Napoleon. Thankfully, it has not survived. His mom often helped retype later attempts using a rented IBM Selectric on the dining room table. When it all appeared to be in vain, Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds) told him to "keep plodding on." So he did. The author of Big Town and The History of Rain — Jumbo is his sixth novel.
"The heart of Stephens Gerard Malone's new novel lies in the evolving relationships between Nell, Mr. Scott (Jumbo's keeper), and Jumbo himself.... The author masterfully portrays the bonds formed between these characters, showcasing their unlikely friendships as sources of solace amidst shared grief, mistreatment, and the hardships of their lives. These companionships keep readers hooked throughout the story. Malone expertly weaves an interesting and realistic tale, shedding light on the eerie painted happiness of the circus world and the truths that lie beneath.
Jumbo is a tragic tale that balances beautiful storytelling with heavy themes. Malone skillfully transports readers to the captivating world of the 19th-century circus, where they will be enthralled by the story's realism and invested in the lives of its characters, leaving the book in the reader's mind long after the final page."
— Atlantic Books Today