Book Review -- Water for Elephants

Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Fiction
Pages: Oversize paperback, 331
Published: 2006
Opening Lines: "Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. Grady and I sat at a battered wooden table, each facing a burger on a dented tin plate."

"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."
~ From Goodreads

Thoughts: The Depression-era train circus has always caught my attention. Since first seeing the old pictures and watching the pilot episode of Carnivale, something about it captured my attention. So, when I heard about Water for Elephants, I immediately ran down to the local Hastings and bought a copy. Unfortunately, it ended taking up space on my bookcase and made it through two moves before I finally pulled it back out. Since I finally got our paperbacks unpacked and on the shelves, I've had this book sitting in my TBR pile. I admit, seeing the ads for the movie brought it fully back to my attention. Even though I have three library books waiting to be read, this little treasure kept calling my name every time I would pass the bookcase containing the TBR pile. I finally gave in and picked it up late Sunday night. And I just finished it.

What can I say? I'm not sure why I waited so long to finally read this book. From the prologue, this book held my attention. Gruen's writing style and attention to detail is simply amazing! At several points, I felt as though I was actually watching the show or walking beside Jacob while working in the menagerie. It felt real. And the perverse, morbid sense of humor she gives Jacob as an elderly gentleman is laugh-out-loud hilarious! Although, I must admit, I found myself fuming over the treatment of our senior citizens. That, however, is a rant for another time!

The characters in this book are so rich and deep. It was hard not to form some sort of fondness for them. In addition, I found it amazing that Gruen was able to turn Rosie into a full character without completely humanizing her. Even though I have a strong bond to animals, I still felt a close connection to Rosie.

From a lot of her terminology, knowledge of trains, animals, freaks, etc., I really think that Gruen did a lot of research before writing this book. It makes it a lot more authoritative and realistic. While the story itself is fiction, it makes it that much more believable and credible to be interspersed with fact.

I will say that the happy ending, Jacob's extreme sensitivity, etc. might be seen as extremely campy. However, I felt that Gruen was trying to find something positive during the Depression. I feel that she did try to capture that, even though there was food a shelter, life on a train circus was not good either. The Depression was hard on everyone, and no one was left unaffected. So, while there was romanticizing occurring in the novel, it felt as though she was trying to make a fairytale in an unlikely setting. To me, that makes it even more endearing and tender. Many reviews I have read complain that she is trying to push an agenda with some of the issues she tackles, but, to me, this was just a romantic love story of two people finding each other against all odds. I do, however, have to laugh a little at the ending. That part might have been a bit over the top ^_~

Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Currently: Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Pages: 8909
Current Progress:
26/50 books



Sinn

1 comment:

  1. The theme narrated the dismal side of the circus which developed over the life story of the hardships Jacob faces in loss, hatred, and jealously. He finds himself immersed in a world where man's inhumanity to humans and animals is commonplace and accepted. His efforts to change the circus culture inadvertantly involve Jacob in a deadly game.

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    "If you’re a freak like me, Wave your flag! If you’re a freak like me, Get off your ass! It’s our time now, To let it all hang out!" I am a recovering English major, closet bibliophile, breve addicted, zombie lover with a rockabilly and heavy metal fetish.