Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants

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I’ve been trying to get this book from the library for quite some time with no success. Reading the book first before seeing the movie always appeals to me. Luckily I was able to snag it this week. It took me only about a day and a half to read. I’m going to be a little vague in my review as I don’t want to spoil the story for others.

I knew Water for Elephants was about the circus but that was the extent of my knowledge. I don’t really know what kind of book I expected, but this wasn’t it. It was SO much more!

Jacob Jankowski is a 92-year-old resident of an assisted living facility. He hates the fact that he is old, is only allowed to eat “mush” and that everyone treats him like a child. When a circus comes to town, all the residents are as excited as children with the prospect of going – Jacob included.

Vacillating between past and present, Jacob recalls how he came to join the circus when he was twenty-three. Devastated by the death of his parents, Jacob leaves veterinary school just before his final exams and jumps a train housing the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus. He is given a job, ultimately that of the circus vet. He falls in love with Marlena, who is married to the head trainer, August, who is a paranoid schizophrenic. The circus owner, Uncle Al, is also pretty crazy. The work is hard and for little to no pay.

The book is rife with poverty, class discrimination, mental illness, death, inhumane conditions for humans and animals . . . It is also filled with love, devotion of humans to one another and to the animals, dedication and humor. It is sad and joyous. The juxtapositions in Water for Elephants wind around each other seamlessly.

I absolutely loved this book. Sara Gruen has a knack for drawing in the reader and keeping him close.


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