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The Juggler's Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us [Hardcover]

Carolyn Abraham
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 26 2013
Carolyn Abraham explores the stunning power and ethical pitfalls of using genetic tests to answer questions of genealogy--by cracking the genome of her own family.
Recently, tens of thousands of people have been drawn to mail-order DNA tests to learn about their family roots. Abraham investigates whether this burgeoning new science can help solve 2 mysteries that have haunted her multi-racial family for more than a century. Both hinge on her enigmatic great-grandfathers--a hero who died young and a scoundrel who disappeared. Can the DNA they left behind reveal their stories from beyond the grave?
Armed with DNA kits, Abraham criss-crosses the globe, taking cells from relatives and strangers, a genetic journey that turns up far more than she bargained for--ugly truths and moral quandaries. With lively writing and a compelling personal narrative, The Juggler's Children tackles profound questions around the genetics of identity, race and humanity, and tells a big story about our small world, with vivid proof that genes bind us all to the branches of one family tree.

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FINALIST 2013 – Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction
FINALIST 2014 – BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
LONGLISTED 2014 – RBC Taylor Prize

“The Juggler’s Children is many things, each one spellbinding: a thrillerish quest for origins, a continent-spanning travelogue and an eye-opening foray into the annals and ethics of genetic science.... Abraham’s family is unusual, but so is her virtuosity as a writer; she’s probing, intelligent, dryly funny but enough of a writer’s writer that she can make the awkward process of DNA swabbing seem magisterial.... Abraham’s book is riveting not just because of its superb writing and suspenseful storyline, but because, in the end, it’s not just about her, it’s about us.”
Emily Donaldson, The Globe and Mail
“With an irreverent sense of humour and the smarts of an experienced medical-science journalist, Abraham describes how questions about her ancestry had gnawed at her since childhood…. What her genes wind up revealing—about not only her own background but everyone else’s—is richer than any tall family tale.”
The Georgia Straight
“Abraham is the ideal guide to the brave and crowded new world of internet genealogy.... Abraham writes with ease and humour, undaunted by com­plexity, and the narrative unfolds like a detective story.”
Literary Review of Canada
“Abraham’s  story of personal connection—the stories, the letters and the memories—end up being more compelling than the scientific revelations.... The Juggler’s Children is a fascinating tale of truth, lies, perception and, ultimately, family.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“Lively, accessible style.... Though this book is built around science, it’s the personal experiences and relationships Abraham describes that will remain with readers.”
The Gazette

The Juggler’s Children is as exciting as any explorer’s account of the discovery of a new land, as carefully written as a fine novel, as rigorous as it is entertaining.”
—Ian Brown, award-winning author of The Boy in the Moon

The Juggler’s Children is simultaneously a compelling family mystery and brilliant science writing. As she cracks her own family’s genetic code, Carolyn Abraham makes the complexities of DNA and the genetic linkages that bind us immediately accessible.”
—Dr. Miriam Shuchman, prize-winning author of The Drug Trial

“Combining traditional journalistic digging with the cutting edge science of genetic genealogy, Carolyn Abraham takes us on a witty and engaging journey across India, China, Europe and Jamaica in search of her polyglot family ancestry…. In the end, she vividly demonstrates that inside the microcosmic gene pool of a single Canadian family—and thus all families—we will find the vast history of humanity. Whether princes or paupers, slaves or slave-drivers, we’re all the same under the skin.”
—James FitzGerald, author of What Disturbs Our Blood, winner of the Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize

About the Author

CAROLYN ABRAHAM is the author of Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain, which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-fiction. The long-time senior medical-science writer for the Globe and Mail, she is a four-time winner of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association’s annual award for her medical reporting and winner of two National Newspaper Awards. She lives with her family in Toronto.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read! April 29 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic read from several viewpoints. First, it is well worth understanding the beginning history of the use of genetics for genealogy, a history not recounted as well elsewhere. The development of how to use and follow one's family through the use of DNA is well developed and enlightening. Finally, the story of the family in all its glory is wonderfully told. I look forward to the sequel - the rest of the story - because there are still some pieces to find. An excellent book to share with someone who has doubts about whether DNA is useful for following family history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dance between science and paper April 26 2013
By Helen
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Juggler's Children is about the Canadian author's "dance between DNA and documentary evidence, science and paper" as she sets out to uncover the mysterious origins of two of her great-grandfathers, one of whom she inherited her surname from ("the juggler"). At the beginning of the book there are two family tree charts, one for the descendants of each of these great-grandfathers who married and fathered children in India but originally came from somewhere else (China and Jamaica, probably). In hindsight I should have drawn another family tree chart for the Crooks family in Jamaica as I read what her research uncovered there, as it was not so easy keeping up with the Crookses, but I was in too much of a hurry to find out what happened next. I guess it could not have been included in the book without giving too much of the story away.

Even though my 100% European ancestry is not nearly as interesting as the author's, I can identify with so much of what she wrote having similar family mysteries of my own to solve. Regardless, I am a sucker for a good detective story. I also learnt some history, geography and science in the process.

The book would also be a good primer for a "genetic virgin". It discusses genetic genealogy in layman's terms and illustrates the various pitfalls of genetic testing and analysis via the author's personal story. Her experiences demonstrate the limitations of both science and paper, and hence the value of using both to corroborate each other. Abraham is a science writer and wove various milestones in genetics and genetic genealogy into her story. However, science has already progressed somewhat since the Abraham family undertook genetic testing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This reads like a thriller. May 25 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author is a science writer and as a child in Ontario became curious as to where her brown skin came from. Her parents had come to Canada from the U.K. but Carolyn knew India was somehow mixed up in the story. After the birth of her daughter Jade, she is determined to find out about the new DNA testing that has recently become available. She decides to examine her very mixed background through DNA. She begins with her parents and works backwards. As she researches the story of both sides of the family, she finds out she had some ancestors no-one would be proud of. The book is at once a warm family story and on the other side, the science gives the layman a basic understanding of the new science of DNA and the histories it can tell. I loved this book - the most fascinating I have read in a long time - and you will love it too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Juggler's Children-a book for us all Sept. 29 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book flows well, the sentence structure is creative and the word pictures are imaginative. I felt motivated to read many pages at once, but I could also pick it up whenever I felt like " a bit more of a read." Initially I borrowed, The Juggler's Children from the library, but was frustrated when It was not my own copy; I wanted to underline pertinent sentences and to read it a second time. Carolyn Abraham teaches in a very comfortable manner. It is a huge eye opener for those of us who are 100% caucasian/western European, allowing us to walk in the shoes of someone who is of mixed race.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this a fascinating mix of family history, genealogy, and DNA genetics. The DNA material is presented in a way that will be clear to beginners and not condescending to those with a bit of knowledge (I can't comment for those with much knowledge. Carolyn Abraham has a fascinating family history to be introduced too. The trail - and so the book - ended too soon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A journey to be enjoyed Jan. 10 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I couldn't put this book down -- something you wouldn't expect from this type of book. I kept wondering what she was going to find out next. In addition I gained new knowledge about genetics.
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