Friday, October 12, 2007

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen chronicles several months in the life of Jacob Jankowski, a former employee of the circus. The story begins with ninety year old Jacob reminiscing about his time in the circus from the bedroom of an assisted living facility. Though immediately we can tell that Jacob's life has not always been easy and currently is incredibly lonely, it is quite obvious that he is smiling when thinking about his time with the big show.

Jacob tells the reader about how he came to join the circus after walking out on his final exams in veterinary school. He was inches away from becoming a certified vet, just like his father, and taking over the family practice, but when his father dies suddenly and Jacob learns there is no longer a practice to run, he walks away from the only life he ever knew and proceeds to join a failing their vet. It is the time of the Great Depression and also a time where the Ringling Brothers Circus is starting its upward climb to stardom and Jacob's circus is constantly trying to catch up.

We learn firsthand the horrific situation that Jacob has gotten himself into, caring for many abused and starving animals, as well as abused and starving circus employees. The animal manager of the show, August, is a crazy man that leaves no animal unharmed, but focuses his rage mainly on Rosie, the show's sole elephant. While Jacob vows to protect the animals, a task none-too easy, he also manages to fall in love with Marlena, August's wife. A move of the heart certainly, but also an almost guaranteed death sentence. The couple are afraid to leave the show, with the animals being in August's hands, but they cannot continue loving each other and working under the big top of this circus. A huge number of dilemmas are handed to Jacob, each one seeming more complicated than the last.

I was enthralled by this delicious novel and am sorry I waited so long to read it. I should really get over my decision to wait until all the hype over books is done before reading it....when a book is grabbed up by millions of readers, that says something! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this tale of the circus, which is also filled with an awesome love story, as well as tragic circumstances the characters are determined to overcome. This is a definite must read!


Marg said...

I really enjoyed this book when I read it a while ago!

cipriano said...

Thank you for your wonderfully insightful review of Gruen's Elephants, Amanda. I too, have picked this book off the shelf 800 times and been tempted to take it home with me.
Your hearty endorsement means that the 801st time may mean that it goes to the car with me!

prepossessing said...

I too waited to pick this book up due to the hype. It was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. You are right - it is strange that we avoid books because millions of other people like them. Perhaps it is the need to feel that the experience of the book is all our own.