Papmambook's teenage authors review Circus Mirandus Newest English edition: Puffin Books, 2016. ISBN 9780147515544. , the debut novel by American writer Сassie Beasley, who takes readers into a miraculous world.
Ksenia Barysheva, 13
I once asked my mom why she bothered with the English lessons she gave at my school on Saturdays, with all the time that went into preparing for them. She told me that she had once had an English teacher who had taught her to love and understand the language, and in memory of her my mom, too, wanted to inspire that love in someone else. That made me wonder about what we leave behind after we die. Fame? Fortune? Power? It all melts away. Only memory remains—the memory of those we loved and those that loved us.
Micah Tuttle lives in a small town with his grandfather Ephraim. His parents are dead and when his granddad falls seriously ill, his younger sister Great Aunt Gertrudis comes to stay with them. She and Micah never quite get along. There are those grandmas that knit warm socks and bake shortbread cookies, and then there are those that, like a corporal, will force you to paint the pavements with a toothbrush. You can’t evade death forever, and Ephraim knows that perfectly. But how can he leave his grandson? And so he picks up a pen and paper.
...Once, a long time ago, a little boy named Ephi was playing hooky from school. He didn’t see the point in his studies, with his father away at the front, and his mom so busy she had no time to even talk. Just then, he heard music: the unmistakable sound of horns and drums. The Circus Mirandus was in town, the world’s most unusual circus, a place where real magic happened. Ephraim hands the ticket taker a little silver fish that has swum into his boot, and that becomes his ticket for a whole week at the circus. He gets to feed Jane the elephant, who knows about absolutely everything in the world, marvels at the Amazing Amazonian Bird Woman, who can fly and has power over all the birds in the world, and sees every performance by the Lightbender. The master of illusions dazzles his audiences with visions of the cold Antarctica and tropical jungles. And there’s one sight that Ephraim truly can’t miss, the vision of his father coming home. Once he sees it, he doesn’t miss a single show. One day, the boy stays in the circus tent to tell the Lightbender that the circus has changed his life. He no longer wants to run away from home and rob trains. But at the last second, he gets cold feet, and instead shows the master of illusions his knot trick, for which the performer, impressed, promises him a miracle. To the Lightbender’s surprise, the boy tells him to hold it for later.
Now, many years later, Ephraim Tuttle writes to the Man Who Bends Light to ask about his promised miracle. Little Micah hopes the miracle will save his grandfather’s life, not suspecting that he had asked for something entirely different...
Ephraim’s father returned from the war and some time later, his younger sister Gertrudis was born. Gertrudis becomes his closest relative, since his mother soon dies and his father never recovers from the grief. But the young boy never forgets the circus. He tells his sister about it, believing that one day they will return there together, since he has the miracle promised to him by the Lightbender. One day, he learns where to find the circus and, full of resolve, he goes there with Gertrudis. A few steps from his miracle, he encounters Victoria, the Amazing Bird Woman. She has grown bored with the Circus Mirandus. Tired of impressing children, she now seeks fame and power. At her last show, she forces the birds to attack each other and die before the children’s eyes, in vengeance for her own unfulfilled dreams. The Lightbender tells her that she'll never be able to fly again and, believing him, she falls. Victoria tells Ephraim that she has lost her powers because of an accident. He cannot bear to leave her alone and they get married. Even so, the brother and sister never give up on their dream of finding the Circus Mirandus, which infuriates Ephraim’s young wife. “If Ephraim’s stories were real, I suppose you could jump off something tall,” she tells Gertrudis. “I could fly up to catch you before you hit the ground.” She doesn’t move a muscle as Gertrudis falls.
And so dreams shatter. After a fall, very few will get up again and again, trying to fly. Gertrudis loses her faith in magic and never forgives her brother for the disappointment and the pain of her broken arm.
Victoria simply leaves, and in a few months Ephraim finds a small, crying bundle on his doorstep, along with a white feather…
In the half-built tree house, Micah and his classmate Jenny sit across from Grandfather Ephraim’s bedroom, expecting the return of their messenger. Great Aunt Gertrudis won’t let Micah into the room, but his grandfather has already told the boy that the letter with his request was picked up by Chintzy the talking parrot and she will return with his answer. Soon the kids meet the remarkable bird and she tells them that Ephraim’s letter has been delivered and the Circus Mirandus is on its way to them.
When Micah and Jenny come to the show, the boy realizes that his dream will never come true. The Lightbender won’t save his grandfather from death or ever come to visit him. Chintzy brings Ephraim sad news: the ringmaster of Circus Mirandus won’t let the Lightbender fulfill his promise. But Micah will do anything to bring the master of illusions to his grandpa. He’s no longer allowed at the circus. And though he knows the miracle may not even work, he comes up with a way to get in. He unties a giant inflatable gorilla from its post, flies up over the circus and falls down onto the tent. Rosebud the healer helps Micah get up after his fall and the Lightbender follows the boy to Ephraim, so that the man can reach for his dream again in his final moments….
After his grandfather’s death, Micah is forced to move to Arizona with his Great Aunt, but another trial awaits. A huge sinkhole opens up on the road and the sounds of horns and drums come from deep inside. Micah closes his eyes and jumps. He ends up on a deserted highway, along with the Lightbender, Jane the Elephant, and Chintzy the parrot. And so the miracle his grandfather asked for came true. Mister Mirandus Head changed his mind: the boy proved that even as he falls, he gets up again and again and never stops believing in magic, so the Circus Mirandus is ready to take him. Chintzy will be kept busy delivering letters to Jenny from the master of illusion’s young apprentice.
So what became of Victoria? She may be alive still, since she spent so much time at the circus and ages more slowly than the rest of us—but who cares?
I think if you look around you’ll see that magic is everywhere, not just at the Circus Mirandus. We’ve all met people who have changed our ideas about the world. My great-grandmother decided to become a nurse after a village doctor saved her life and her brother became a pilot because the instructor of a parachuting club believed in him as a shy young man from a tiny village. Anyone who has taught you becomes a part of your soul. Our soul is composed of the memories of people who have left their mark there. You can teach people a certain attitude toward life, toward happiness and hardship, respect for other people, the ability to accept oneself, to find meaning in everything you do. The Lightbender gave Grandfather Ephraim a miracle not just because he taught him something, nor because Ephraim understood what a miracle is for, but because he learned something from Ephraim himself.
Fame, power, wealth will all pass. Only the kindness we do remains when we go.
Aleksandra Dvoretskaya, 13
We encounter small, absolutely insignificant miracles every day—we just don’t see them as true miracles. We only consider it a miracle if it’s something grand. But not all miracles are like that! Our lives are full of small miracles—what matters is how we choose to see them, whether we want to notice them and to experience life as an extraordinary celebration. We don’t believe in fairytale wonders. After all, our world is ordinary, so how can there be magic? But miracles do happen! There’s no way they don’t happen at all.
“Just because a magic is small doesn't mean it is unimportant,” the Man Who Bends Light said. “Even the smallest magics can grow.” Many years ago, during the war, the father of little Ephraim went away to the front. His mother was away at work all the time. The boy was very sad and wanted a miracle. And it was in those days that he heard the alluring sounds of music and followed the magic, “as countless children before him had followed, as some few lucky ones still do.” The magical Circus Mirandus had arrived in the city!
Have you ever encountered a real miracle? No, not simple coincidence or an unexpected twist in life’s plot. How about a magical miracle? The kind of miracle every child believes in, but adults forget about, trusting only scientifically-based facts. A miracle that isn’t marked "ages 0 - 8". Do you want to see one? Do you? Then you’ll need a ticket.
Ephraim showed the ticket taker a silver fish that happened to be in his boot and got to attend the magic circus for a week…
“Welcome to the Circus Mirandus, Micah Tuttle and his friend!”
Look, fairies! Wait, those are butterflies! Oh, wait, fairies again! Fairy-butterflies! A huge white tiger paces. A candy woman gives visitors delicious luminous treats. The strongman lifts a girl with just one finger. Here is an eagle who can predict the future and there’s a miniature hippo lying in a wallow. Bright blue bats hang from stalactites under the roof of the tent. Long-haired goats read a magazine with an iguana. Birds turn into mice. Oh, a little blue unicorn! Grandfather Ephraim’s little silver fish! And there’s Jane the elephant - The Smartest Elephant In The World. Everything here breathes magic. Hurry up, the Lightbender’s performance is about to begin! You just can’t miss it! After all, this performance will make you happy. Are you Micah Tuttle, by any chance? So it’s you? Come quickly! You haven’t forgotten that the Man Who Bends Light owes Grandfather Ephraim a miracle, have you? Do you still remember why you came here? Well, come in, the miracles are about to begin!..
Oh, Micah, that wasn’t the miracle your grandfather asked for. Miracles happen every minute of our lives. People are born, cured of disease, someone somewhere finds a friend. But no one can break the cycle of life. And what’s certain is that nobody tries to cheat death.
Grandfather Ephraim asked for a miracle more incredible than life itself. What desire could be stronger in a dying man than the desire to live? The desire to make a someone you love happy. Everyone craves a miracle. But not everyone is able to give the miracle to someone else.
Grandfather Ephraim is an adult who never forgot the magic circus, where there was no place for ordinary things. A boy who carried the miracle given to him throughout his whole life. He could ask for anything, as any other child would. Ephraim’s life was full of moments when he needed that miracle. But he didn’t use the miracle that was promised to him. He gave his only magic to his nearest and dearest person. And even as he was dying, Ephraim did not ask to change the course of his life, just as in childhood he didn’t ask to change the course of history and bring his father home from war. He did not ask for wealth and power, he did not ask anything for himself. He asked for something that only those who believe in miracles can understand. And Ephraim Tuttle made a miracle happen for another. After all, anyone can work wonders if he believes in them himself.
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
Cover image: penguinrandomhouse.com
These articles were originally published in 2017
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