• September 1, 2014

‘Queen of Air’ absolutely soars

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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 9:40 am, Sun Jul 14, 2013.

The bar was all of an inch in diameter, but it was perfect.

You only needed to grab it and hang on, so it didn’t have to be very big. It just had to hold your weight as you swung hand-over-hand, hung upside down, and performed monkeyshines on the monkey bars when you were a kid.

It was so easy then. Those same moves look easy now, especially when done by a professional. But as you’ll see in the new book “Queen of the Air” by Dean Jensen, what’s on the trapeze isn’t what’ll keep you hanging.

Alfredo Codona didn’t believe in love at first sight — until he saw Leitzel.

He was just 16 years old, a relatively minor trapeze artist and soon-to-be heartthrob. She was 18, stunningly beautiful, a “darling with circus audiences everywhere...” Smitten, he pursued her with single-mindedness — but the Queen of the Air had her career to think about, and she ended the short romance.

Born to an unwed teenager in 1891, Leitzel definitely had circus blood in her veins: her father had owned a traveling troupe; her grandmother and aunts were all performers and her mother was a trapeze sensation.

It didn’t take long for Leitzel to upstage her.

Alfredo was the long-awaited son of Edward Codona, owner of a traveling circus. Born in Mexico, Alfredo spent most of his youth watching his sister, Victoria, receive tutoring on the high wire. It was her prowess that got him to Chicago. It was she who saw his heart break when Leitzel said their romance was over.

And so, in 1909, Leitzel went her way and Alfredo went his.

She married, divorced, and married again but always had lovers on the side, powerful men who visited her tent after her performances. Her fame grew, and she made “Mister John” Ringling a lot of money.

On the trapeze, the grown-up Alfredo “had no peers.” His fame, too, was growing and he had his sights set on a feat that everyone said was impossible. He married a fellow troupe member, but he never forgot his first love.

And then, 18 years after their last kiss, Alfred Codona found himself working beneath the same roof as his beloved Leitzel.

So you say you love a good romance filled with drama. Add 1920s intrigue, period settings, elephants, and a dash of OMG, and you’ve got “Queen of the Air.”

Jensen, in fact, makes Leitzel and Alfredo’s story seem more like a novel, with rich settings and good character shaping. But it’s no novel, and in his afterword, Jensen explains how he researched this “epic” story. Long before you get that far, though, you’ll be treated to a few hours of stupendous feats under the Big Top, and back to an innocent time that wasn’t so innocent after all.

I could barely tear myself away from this book, and I think you’ll love it, too. For anyone who knows that stardust can be a tarnished and magic is an illusion, “Queen of the Air” absolutely soars.

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