When Benjamin Borku, who is all simply called Benbe, turns twenty-two, he is going to go to America and there to carry out one of his many projects that pursue one goal: get rich without spending too much effort. At home, the youth does not hold anything. Father Benbe, who belonged to the ancient family of venerable burghers, died when Benbe was still a child, his mother also died, doing everything possible to give his son a severe upbringing. However, she has succeeded a little in this: gifted with an inquisitive mind, Benbe is distinguished by frivolity and inconstancy. He managed to become a bachelor of philosophy and finish a trade school, but still does not know what to do. With youthful carelessness, Benbet hopes that, having found himself in America, in a country of “unlimited possibilities,” he will somehow manage to find a place in life. The money for the trip is given to him by his mother’s uncle, Lengsel, who lives with his wife and two daughters, Vera and Karolina, at Vernoye, from Uncle, the young man learns that their relative lives in America, Jonathan Bork, the cousin of the late father Benbe. Uncle tells Benbecue about how Jonathan ended up in America. Jonathan, who was not so much brought up as she was spoiled by grandmother Bork, was an extremely unbalanced child and hit all his kin with his eccentric behavior. However, at the same time the boy was sincere, good-natured and was so nervous and shy that his grandmother reconciled with his antics and did not dare to resort to severe punishments. Jonathan Bork, a cousin of the late father Benbe. Uncle tells Benbecue about how Jonathan ended up in America. Jonathan, who was not so much brought up as she was spoiled by grandmother Bork, was an extremely unbalanced child and hit all his kin with his eccentric behavior. However, at the same time the boy was sincere, good-natured and was so nervous and shy that his grandmother reconciled with his antics and did not dare to resort to severe punishments. Jonathan Bork, a cousin of the late father Benbe. Uncle tells Benbecue about how Jonathan ended up in America. Jonathan, who was not so much brought up as she was spoiled by Grandmother Bork, was an extremely unbalanced child and struck all his relatives with his eccentric behavior. However, at the same time the boy was sincere, good-natured and was so nervous and shy that his grandmother reconciled with his antics and did not dare to resort to severe punishments.
One night, a young Jonathan robbed a jeweler’s shop of the Jew Gavenshtein, and gave all the trinkets to school friends. The scandal was going to be hushed up, but the tomboy did not wait for the denouement and, having pulled several hundred of his grandmother’s cabinet, disappeared. After a while, letters from America began to come from America, from which it was clear that he was living unbearably. After the money was sent to him, no news came from him, and after twelve years, Jonathan wrote a letter to relatives asking if he could visit his grandmother. She somehow decided that he would appear hungry and in rags, and was ready to forgive his grandson and even find him a decent occupation, but when she found out that Jonathan was fabulously wealthy, she, to the amazement of all relatives, put him out the door. The proud old woman could not reconcile herself to the fact that Jonathan, secretly acting through the jeweler Gavenshteyna, bought her estate, which she had to sell, and invited her to again become its owner. But most of all, my grandmother was indignant that Jonathan had acquired immeasurable wealth, becoming famous throughout America as a clown. She grew up in a simple peasant family and could not help despising the people of this profession. Jonathan stayed for a few weeks at Vernoye’s estate, and then arrived only two years after his grandmother’s death, and since then no one has heard of him.
Vera, cousin Benbe, an ugly, morbid and errant girl, passes him a sealed packet so that he gives it to their famous relative, and Benbe leaves. In America, he does not manage to get a job, especially since he does not really strive for it, and when he lives all the money, he tries to meet with Jonathan Bork, a famous public under the pseudonym Yak Trakbak. But it does not turn out to be a simple matter: Yak’s secretary looks through all the letters that he writes, and the entrance to the huge estate of the clown is reliably guarded. After several unsuccessful attempts, Benbet despairs to meet with Yak, but he comes to him, and Benbe sees a frail and shy person in front of him. Convinced that Benbe, despite his frivolity and inclination for adventure, an honest and decent young man, the clown invites him to his estate, in which almost all household items, right up to the furniture, were taken out of the grandmother’s house in Sweden. The estate is a bizarre conglomeration of numerous courtyards, picturesque lawns, buildings and covered passages, in which you can get lost: this is a real labyrinth. In addition to Yak himself, his young wife lives here, the former dancer Siv, the elderly couple of Swede servants, the elderly Austrian Major de Grazie, and the black gatekeeper Longfellow with his wife and a bunch of children. To Benbe, secretly from Jacob is his secretary, Abel Rash, the son of the jeweler Gavenshtein. He insists that Benbe leave America as soon as possible, and promises him a large sum from the syndicate “Yak Trakbak”, which deals with the financial affairs of the famous clown. The four owners of the syndicate are influential politicians and big businessmen Adam, Israel, Bych, Perch, as well as the brother of the oil tycoon, neurologist Henni – is seriously concerned that Benbe’s visit can disrupt the planned tour of Trakbak in America: huge money has already been put into this business and they do not intend to lose a lot of interest from...
But the syndicate is not going to just give up its money so simply. Then Yak declares that he abolishes the syndicate, and instructs his lawyer to conduct the trial. Benbe sees with astonishment that he is involved in a complex and dangerous game. The young man remembers the sealed bag, which his cousin Vera asked to convey to Yak. The clown prints the packet: in it – a lady’s glove, a pair to the one that Yaku many years ago gave to the memory of his lover. Yak admits to Benbe that he had a short affair with Maria, Aunt Benbe and his uncle’s wife. The clown still remembers her with tenderness. Yak begs the young man to go to Sweden and bring from there Faith, their daughter, the fruit of their secret love. Benbe learns that his aunt secretly from her husband corresponded with Yak and even sent him photographs of the Faith.
Benbe comes to Sweden and wooed for the sister of Vera, a pretty and cheerful Carolina. It turns out that on the bag that Vera handed to Yaku through Benbe, it was written by Maria’s hand that he should be handed Jonathan Bork only after her death, but Vera decided to act in her own way. Benbe gives Mary Langsel a request from Yak, and she agrees to send Vera to her real father. Längsel thinks about everything, but does not give a look. He sincerely feels sorry for his wife Maria, especially since she does not live long: she has liver cancer.
Benbe with Caroline and Vera leave for America. He has grandiose plans: he is going to become a journalist, and this is helped by his new acquaintance, an influential Swedish businessman who takes the young man under his protection. Yak receives a letter from Mary, in which a dying woman with bitterness expresses to him everything she thinks of him: he is a miserable and low egoist, he is “her shame, a dirty spot in her name.” The clown falls into a heavy depression and is unable to enter the arena. To delay the day of the performance, he deliberately falls from the trapeze during training and breaks his ankle. His daughter comes, but the relationship between them does not add up. Vera inherited from her father exactly those traits of character that do not enjoy the love of others – eccentricity, uncontrollability, irritability, selfishness and morbid ambition, but at the same time she is completely devoid of any kind of talents. She does not understand that her father is tired of fame and despises her audience, the girl is flattered by the popularity of her father, and she is pleased to bask in the rays of his glory. Yak understands despairingly that he has nothing to do with his daughter, and she demands more attention from him and does not tolerate anyone near him, not even his wife Siv.
The day of Yak’s speech is approaching. In the huge hall, the audience is eagerly waiting for the dangerous acrobatic tricks and funny jokes of their pet. But Yak disappoints the audience: he pronounces an improvised monologue, then referring to the “Catechism of the Clown” he wrote a few days before his speech, arguing aloud, as if he were alone in this room. The clown expresses to the idle crowd everything he thinks about life, about art, about love, about the appointment of an artist. But no one understands that this is Yak’s confession to himself: everyone is waiting for when he finally starts a cheerful performance. Clown becomes ill, and he is taken away from the stage. After a while, Yak is inferior to the requirements of the syndicate and acts in a vulgar play, composed for the public. All this time, Vera is tormented by idleness and boredom tries to seduce the Major de Grazie,
The clown does not think of anything, except peace. But in his estate about 500 eminent guests come to take part in a grand ball, which is given in honor of Yak. Preparation for the holiday falls on the shoulders of Major de Grazie, who arranges a huge fireworks for the deafening sounds of jazz. Yak is so confused by the unexpected that he almost bursts his heart, but the guests think that this is his next trick and laugh at how cleverly he plays deadly horror. Someone lets out from cells of monkeys, favorite animals of a clown, and they rush about in park. Guests excited by music, wine and dancing of half-naked teenagers, dressed up by Indians, begin to behave more and more unbridled. Faith enjoys a holiday that threatens to turn into a bacchanalia, and frankly flirts with young people, but none of them take it seriously. The clown is thoughtful and sad. He looks at Vera with bitterness, pity and contempt. Siv, who alone understands what is going on in Yak’s soul, is afraid that he will give vent to his irritation, but Yak tells her that he is a clown and will be able to hide his true feelings. A few days later, Yak receives a notice of the death of Mary Langsel.