Reviewed by Carine Engelbrecht for Readers' Favorite
The Grand Gypsy offers a unique glimpse into a hidden world - that of the circus. The book was compiled by Ottavio Gesmundo, using a memoir written his grandfather, Ottavio Canestrelli, and tells the story of the Canestrelli family circus. The threads of various circus families come together in the two Ottavios. Through the memoir we follow the rising star of Canestrelli as he perfects his daring act and travels with various circus groups across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. As political storms gather over Europe, the family resettles in the USA, where they perform with Ringling Brothers and later, his glamorous daughter La Tosca is crowned Queen of the Circus. The book portrays triumphs as well as accidents and mishaps. Among Ottavio Canestrelli's later coups are the two performances on the Ed Sullivan show and a world tour with his troop of engaging chimpanzees. The final part of the book introduces the current generation of Canestrellis, but also shares numerous promotional and other photos of the family and the circus.
If you have ever dreamt of running away to the circus, then The Grand Gypsy is for you. Although there are two authors, the narratives are masterfully and harmoniously blended to create a fascinating chronicle of circus history. While Canestrelli relives the exciting heyday of the Big Top, Gesmundo adds meticulous details to anchor his grandfather's account securely within its era. It is this contribution that elevates this book from memoir to valuable historical record. It reaches beyond circus life to add insightful snapshots into the first half of the 20th century, in exotic locales such as Dakar, Bombay and Senegal, but also raises the curtain on the hazards and dangers of performing by showing what can happen when a performance goes wrong. It is obvious that a lot of care has gone into the creation of this account and for its richness in detail we are indebted to both Ottavio Canestrelli and Ottavio Gesmundo.