Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen


Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. (Image and synopsis from

My Review:

I like and dislike this book. I tend to stay away from new hyped-up releases for a while because a lot of times I find that it doesn't measure up to the hype. If I still hear people talking about it later, I'll pick it up and give it a shot. Which is what I did for Water for Elephants.

Water for Elephants is the story of a young man, Jacob, who leaves college and joins a circus, becoming the show's veterinarian.  While he's with the circus, he meets many interesting people and animals. He also falls in love with a woman who is married to a man who hates Jacob (can we say love triangle?).

I loved the form of this story, young Jacob's story is told through the memory of 90 or 93 year old Jacob, as he sits in a nursing home waiting for his family to come and take him to see the visiting circus. Sara Gruen did a great job portraying the elderly Jacob, his emotions and thoughts were excellently described. I also like how young Jacob's story was always framed through old Jacob's thoughts and actions. It reminded me of the movie 'The Princess Bride,' when the grandfather and grandson always push through the story to remind the audience who is telling the story. Old Jacob's point of view also gives some conclusion to the story, since the reader can see how almost all of his life went after young Jacob's story stops.

The part of Water for Elephants that I did not appreciate was some of the descriptions of parts of young Jacob's story. I don't particularly care to read about the grimy underside of humanity, including poor circus travelers during the Great Depression. There are some sexual exploits described very explicitly in the book, which I just feel are unnecessary. I don't think they add to the story so why include it? If a sexual relationship pertains to the story, that's fine, but if it's just to show that the author can write about it, I don't care to read it.

Overall, I enjoyed the story, especially the way it was put together, young Jacob through the memory of old Jacob and the endings for both young and old Jacob. Some parts did not appeal to me because it's just not what I like to read, but I do recommend this book for those who do not mind.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the most well written books I've ever read. I'm not much on fiction, but this is an enthralling story. I didn't think it would appeal to me much but a friends' endless raves convinced me to give it a try. It's gritty, gutsy, appalling, delightful, sad, glorious, and many other adjectives.
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