4 out of 4 stars
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The Sword Swallower and the Chico Kid by Gary Robinson is a book about two boys who were lost in life. It is a raw tale of two life stories written as a fiction book. The author states the book is inspired by his life and the life of his friend Captain Don Leslie, the sword swallower. A very deep book at times which surprised me with introspective thoughts, for example when referring to the clowns, “ As a group, they kept to themselves and from an outside perspective, appeared tormented with the fate in life. They were extremely talented and beautiful souls.” This was a teaching moment which showed a different perspective on how to view people in life. The sword swallower had many moments in the book where he described people based on their inner beauty.
The book starts with the prologue with Gary as a grandfather receiving a gift, which brings him back in time. The book then moves on to the stories about the sword swallower, Duke Reynolds. Part one starts with the sword swallower performing his trick for a group of bikers in San Francisco during the circus off season. It doesn’t take long before the reader gets pulled into Duke’s life of alcohol, drugs, and tattoos. The author did an amazing job of bringing the reader into the story with elaborate detail. He captured the moments either with humor or heartbreak. Heartbreak came into the story with his abundant use of alcohol and drugs to the extent where it is was amazing that Duke could function in life. The stories about circus life were very detailed. I wish he had written more stories about the circus. The circus stories felt like they came to an abrupt end, but were followed by more stories of Duke which were equally entertaining.
In part two of the book Gary is introduced as an alcoholic college graduate. This part of the book I enjoyed the least. It was pretty much what was expected so I can’t fault the author. It was filled with college antics, drugs, and alcohol but again the author alway had a surprisingly deep thought or an awakening. For example Gary’s inner knowledge, “ I always had a belief that there are no coincidences in life. I was pulled here to this tiny town by a higher power. The purpose of why we are here and who we are engaged with is rarely revealed until the moment has arrived.” This thought occurred right after Gary graduated and moved away from his college friends.
The third part of the book is the unconventional friendship of Duke and Gary. Throughout the book the author continually says you have to live for today and it is a common theme for Duke and Gary. There is a light bulb moment again when Gary decides to introduce himself after seeing Duke perform at a bar. The book finishes with part three, the friendship between Duke and Gary. Duke begins to mentor Gary and eventually convinces Gary to give up alcohol.
Gary Robinson also mentions that some of the chapters are “loosely” based on the literary work of Madame Chinchilla and her husband Mr G, of Triangle Tattoo and Museum, located in Fort Bragg California. I mention this because I enjoyed the extra details which gave me an opportunity to bring the book to life and to also learn the history of tattooing. The book was rich with life. He referred to the tattoos as “art” and explained that behind the tattoos were stories, which could fill libraries.
The passages where the author talked about atheism and religion were interesting, although I it might offend some readers. Gary decided Duke was an atheist and I think this is a part of the book that can be misunderstood because the author was referring to religion, not necessarily God. In fact Duke was very spiritual in many ways and despite his addictions had compassion for others. Gary asks him if he is afraid to go to hell and he he talks about “Love” and “the teacher of universal forgiveness”. “Love does not speak the words of hatred. The teacher of universal forgiveness cannot believe in eternal torture.” I applaud the author because he took a risk in writing about a very controversial subject. I believe it opened the door for readers to ponder other possibilities about our existence on earth. Quite possibly Duke’s God was simply Love.
I rate this book four out of four stars. It was full of surprises, very entertaining, a fast read, and a testament to living in the moment. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning and has an open mind to new ideas. I would also caution that this book is appropriate for mature readers due to the amount of drug and alcohol use and complex ideas.
The Sword Swallower and a Chico Kid
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