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Extended Audio Sample Jamrach’s Menagerie: A Novel, by Carol Birch Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (3,197 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Carol Birch Narrator: Steve West Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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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.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “An imaginative tour-de-force, encompassing the sights and smells of nineteenth-century London and the wild sea…It’s gripping, superbly written, and a delight.”

    Times (London)

  • “Visceral and primal…Effortlessly readable.”


  • “Carol Birch is a literary original.”

    Christian Science Monitor

  • “Vivid, gorgeous writing and the most curious literary voyage since Pi Patel found himself on a lifeboat with a tiger in Life of Pi.”

    Seattle Times

  • “For a new salty adventure across the watery part of the world, you won’t find a better passage than Jamrach’s Menagerie…[It] will keep you up late and make you feel distracted whenever you have to set it down and leave Jaffy’s world behind.”

    Washington Post

  • “An exuberant tale…Irresistible…[Birch’s] words sing on the page.”

    Finacial Times

  • “In Jaffy, Birch has captured a boyish wonder at nature, a fascination with animals that any kid who’s ever caught a snake in the woods will be familiar with. As phantasmagoric as the mood of this novel gets, there is nothing in it that steps outside the bounds of reality, for it knows the real world is fantastic enough.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • A Kirkus Reviews “New and Notable Title”, June 2011
  • Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
  • A 2011 Washington Post Notable Book for Fiction
  • Longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction
  • A 2011 Man Booker Prize Finalist

Listener Opinions

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Becky McWilliams | 2/4/2014

    " I just couldn't get into this book. It's disappointing because it looked like it was going to be really good! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Estrella | 2/1/2014

    " I'm enjoying the book. I am almost done with it. I'm not quite connecting with the characters and it took me a while to get into the book. I haven't flown through this book like I have with others, which was a little disappointing. I thought I would get really drawn into the story and the characters. It has definitely been enjoyable enough to want to finish, though, and I am glad I got to read this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Calista | 1/30/2014

    " Although this book is written beautifully, it was very hard to read. I wasn't prepared for the gruesome turn of events. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Jama | 1/30/2014

    " I chose this book after reading it was short-listed for the Booker prize, and my expectations were high. And of course I felt that the subject, (a boy on a whaling boat, a shipwreck, drifting for months on the Pacific, and cannibalism), could not fail to be exciting. Unfortunately, the book disappointed me. The writing was not as tight and compelling as I had expected, in fact in many instances I found it convoluted and confusing, and I was not impressed with her take on this oft-told tale. Birch's novel pales when compared to David Mitchell's nautical tales (in Cloud Atlas and the Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet), and the story of the shipwreck and subsequent cannibalism was done better in Sena Jeter Nasland's Ahab's Wife. I do not think it deserves to be on the Booker short-list, but it is a fair to middling beach read. "

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