As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
I decided to read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen because a friend said it was one of the best books she had ever read. Personally, I was intrigued by the movie (who wouldn’t be intrigued by Rob Pattinson with Reese Witherspoon?) and had learned my lesson with I Am Number Four when it comes to seeing a movie before reading the book.
When I first started reading the book, I was a little skeptical. I wasn’t a huge fan of the present day story. In fact, I am now fairly concerned about my mortality (and subsequently my husband’s) and really need to start figuring out our long term plans for when we can no longer take care of ourselves…but that is a whole different story. I didn’t understand how this man’s preference for “real food” and not the “meatloaf” with gravy that “has already formed a skin,” had anything to do with the story. But, by the end, it all made sense and the story would really have been lacking without it.
Water for Elephants is fairly dark – I imagine Gotham City gloom, but with a golden glow surrounding the bigtop performances. But, isn’t that the way we all see the circus? We get wrapped up in the feelings we have when the show is going, but don’t think about what happens behind the curtain. And for people of my generation and the ones younger than us, we never really think about how the country (and subsequently the circus) may have been back in the 1920′s and 30′s. Water for Elephants allows us to glimpse this world and really think about the lives of those who lived it – even the circus performers.
What I’ll tell my friends. If you love a good love story, read this book. If you love to read about history, read this book. If you love dark, and sometimes disturbing stories, read this book. If you trust me, read this book.
P.S. Make sure you read the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book. Very interesting insight into how the book came about.
To get your copy of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, buy it on Amazon.com.