The Swan Gondola

The Swan Gondola

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A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair.

On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, isn't quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway's Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair's magic begins to take its effect.

From the critically acclaimed author of The Coffins of Little Hope , The Swan Gondola is a transporting read, reminiscent of Water for Elephants or The Night Circus .
ISBN: 9781594486098
Branch Call Number: BOOK CLUB BAG Schaffert / Swan


From Library Staff

A lush and thrilling romantic fable about two lovers, set against the scandalous burlesques, midnight séances, and aerial ballets of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair.

From the critics

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Feb 26, 2018

This story, set during Omaha's 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, is told from the carnival workers' viewpoint...complete with prostitutes, ne'er-do-well entertainers, and anarchists. I found it hard to like any of the characters and didn't feel like any of the Wizard of Oz devices/references worked well. Omaha itself comes off as a cow town trying to make it to the big time with a fair that brings President McKinley to town. Although I found some of the period language interesting and colorful, I felt that the overall effect was pretentious. I struggled through the book because it's the February 2018 selection of the Willa Cather Book Club.

Feb 17, 2017

Completed 50% of book. Interesting at first then became tedious.

Sep 15, 2016

The Swan Gondola is a beautiful portrayal of love and loss set against a glorious backdrop so vivid, it becomes an entire world. The Fair is described in such exquisite detail that you feel that you are walking along the colorful tents and booths of the Midway and sailing down the length of the 2000-ft. lagoon in a gondola on a moonlit night. Schaffert, a Nebraska native, takes some of his inspiration from Baum’s classic novel, The Wizard of Oz, and cheerfully admits to the allusions. Although this is not a retelling or an origin story, I enjoyed discovering the allusions for myself. Schaffert’s novel is a romantic, breathtaking work of literary fiction, and an absolute treat. Highly recommended.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 04, 2016

An engaging novel full of tension, romance, mysticism, and atmosphere. It really brings the Omaha World Fair (the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition) to life.

Jan 21, 2015

Excellent plot, themes, point of view, historical fiction. Through the eyes of a down and outer (Dickensian style), the reader is immersed in a love story evolving simultaneously with the Trans-Mississippi Exhibition (Omaha World's Fair). I thoroughly enjoyed going through the U of Nebraska's photo archive from the link at the end of the book; many scenes and events jumped to life. Have discussed with a colleague who read It Happened At the Fair (on Chicago World's Fair just 4 years prior). We are each going to read the other book. Kudos to Schaffert - he can really write. Just a tad long and descriptive, but I forgive him that.

Jun 09, 2014

LOVED! Such an amazing story...I felt transported back into time to Omaha World's Fair!

Feb 16, 2014

Very atmospheric and a bit magical at times. This is a charming story.


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