Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #35: César Cascabel

“Has nobody got any more coppers to give me? Come, children, search your pockets!”

“Here you are, father!” replied the little girl.

And she drew out of her pocket a square-cut piece of greenish paper, all crumpled and greasy.

This paper bore the almost illegible inscription “United States Fractional Currency,” encircling the respectable-looking head of a gentleman in a frock-coat, and likewise the figure 10 repeated six times,—which represented ten cents, say about ten French sous.

“How did you come by that?” inquired the mother.

“It's the remnant of the takings at the last performance,” answered Napoleona.

The Cascabels are an optimistic, ingenious, and resourceful French circus family who have been touring the fairs of the United States in their great covered wagon, the Belle-Roulotte (Fair Rambler, in the English translations -- a nice example of a translator introducing a clever translation pun), which serves as a mobile home. They make it all the way across the United States to Sacramento, but as they are returning, ready to go back to France, they are robbed, and they realize that they are not going to be able to earn enough money, just from the return trip across the United States, to pay for getting themselves and the Belle-Roulotte home to France. Undaunted, they decide to go West rather than East. It's a longer voyage, but one that can in principle be done entirely across land, up through Alaska, across the frozen Bering Straits, and all the way across Siberia. If they can just get across the Urals to Perm, they will easily be able to get back to France. Together with a native girl named Kayette and a Russian named Sergius, who join them, they will witness the transition of Alaska from Russia to the United States, brave the Siberian weather, outmaneuver dangerous Russian bandits, and solve a tricky political problem before they are finally home free. And in the end their fortunes will depend on a pantomime-play directed with a circus master's timing.

Caesar Cascabel is very different from stereotypical Verne, but it was a fun, light read; the main characters are charming and undauntable, the story reasonably interesting, and the resolution nicely done.

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