23-year-old Jacob Jankowski is preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the devastating news that his parents died in a car accident. Their home has been mortgaged to pay for his tuition. Orphaned and penniless he jumps a circus train, which belongs to the Benzini Brothers. He meets different people: brutal and kind, abusive and charming. Sara Gruen says that the backbone of her story is connected with Jacob in the Book of genesis. the name is related to the Hebrew word for "heel".
This deeply psychological novel reveals the glamorous and dark world of the famous circus in the time of Depression. The readers can compare the book with a film adaptation.