Joel Elstelä
Publication date
September 2021
Format info
582 pp

Zircco Fantastico

Sirkusleijonan mieli

Do old circus lions dream of hunting?

A circus caravan travels through the Third Reich with the smile of a clown on its face. Egon Heuchler has spent his life running the Zircco Fantastico, a circus whose performers – the catwoman, the world’s fattest man, the bearded lady, the Siamese twins and the deathjumper  – have grown together like a family. It’s spring 1940 in Berlin, and the circus is captured by the Nazis. Thus begins a tour that must be brought to completion, even though Egon has lost all hope, like an old circus lion whose coat has lost its sheen. But even at the brink of despair, the beautiful catwoman awakens the ringmaster’s woeful heart, and the circus folk have a few magic tricks up their sleeves…

Zircco Fantastico a ringmaster’s dramatic journey of fear and suffering, of hiding in the limelight.

Prizes, nominations

2021, nominated for the Finlandia Prize


Reading this novel is a strong bodily experience. The language used to describe emotions is apt, precise. The narrative is compelling, the phrases are flowing, the circus world is sensuous and the circus wagon metaphor is potent. Questions of responsibility, self-deceit and turning a blind eye are dealt with in a way that is touching and relatable. – Statement of the Finlandia Prize Jury

Rather than concentrating on military history, this story, which combines a cool farce with a romance between circus performers, is reminiscent of Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum. Aamulehti newspaper

Elstelä’s language is so sensuous and evocative that it genuinely transports you to Germany in the 1940s. (…) All of the details, from the objects in the circus wagons to the smoke-filled atmosphere of a Berlin speakeasy, are carefully refined. Perhaps due to Elstelä’s background as a playwright, the events of the novel completely come to life in the reader’s mind. (…) Zircco Fantastico is one of those novels that will stay with you forever. Keskipohjanmaa newspaper