CBR14Bingo: Star (Charly clearly sees himself as a star, and he was)
This was a pretty fast and straight forward autobiography of Charly Baumann’s twenty-five years of circus life. It’s not the type of autobiography where the author does a lot of introspection, but it’s an enjoyable read and a good look into European and American circus post-WWII and into the 1970s. His descriptions of his training methods and the long, difficult process of carefully training tigers was interesting. There are also a lot of details of maulings and near-death experiences, which are often pretty gory and drive home the danger of working with wild animals. It tied into the last circus memoir I read that talked about how no matter how close you feel to a big cat or how well trained it is, it can still turn on you at any moment, as it’s a wild animal, and it’s the trainer’s fault in that case. Baumann echoed that point as he points to his lack of concentration when he was attacked.
I was simultaneously surprised and unsurprised by how quickly he moves through his incredibly traumatic childhood. It made sense that he wanted to focus on the main thrust of his life, animal training, and that going into depth about his family losing everything, his father being killed in a gas chamber in Belsen, and his mother undergoing medical experimentation in Ravensbrück that ruined her health — as well as his own incarceration in an orphanage and then being used as slave labor on a farm, then starving post-war until he managed to join the circus — was not something he really wanted to dig into, but the fact that all of that was jammed into two pages was a pretty incredible feat of mental gymnastics. It made the parts where he was womanizing his way around the world and being irritating a bit more comprehensible, as he seemed to be a complicated person in terms of his sternness and chauvinistic attitudes, combined with his moments where he has a real eye for the sensitive feelings of the animals or a nice turn of phrase. I got the sense there was more going on under the surface but this was a book written during a time when psychological memoir wasn’t that much of a thing, and by a man who didn’t seem to be interested in much more than giving the perception of being the most macho, strong guy, hitting on women, and training tigers.
Recommended for the circus fan or people interested in what it takes to maintain a world-class animal act.
Warnings for: WWII in Germany, animal maulings, animal death, one pretty gross scene of a tiger giving birth to dead cubs with his help.