Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
A Book Review by Amy Schuster
Water For Elephants is told as a recollection of memories from the story’s protagonist, Jacob Jankowski, who is a 90-something nursing home resident, reminiscing on his time working for a traveling circus during the 1930’s. Jacob was a veterinary student who had to drop out because of the tragic death of his parents. Orphaned and broke, fate and destiny collide as he hops on a train and discovers it belongs to Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, which he describes as a “ship of fools.” Jacob is hired to be the circus’ animal caretaker. Shortly after arriving, Jacob meets Marlena, a gorgeous equestrian performer in the circus, and immediately falls in love with her. She is stuck in an unhappy marriage to the tale's antagonist, the mean-spirited and aggressive ringmaster, August.
The circus, which is having a hard time generating business due to the Great Depression, adds an elephant named Rosie to their ensemble, who is supposed to be the show’s stellar act. It turns out that Rosie is very charismatic but disobedient, not wanting to follow the instructions of August who is often physically abusive toward her. Jacob, Marlena, and Rosie share an incredible bond full of compassion and trust. Later on in the book, Marlena reciprocates Jacob’s romantic feelings and the two engage in a passionate affair, going behind the back of August.
Water for Elephants is a dark but beautifully written story with vivid imagery, especially when Gruen describes the circus and the lives surrounding it. There are many time jumps between the past and present which makes the story even more intriguing. Gruen touches on the books themes of life, love, animal cruelty, and the turmoil of living in the Great Depression era with poignancy and humor. The characters are very well developed as Gruen showcases each of the character’s personality and aspirations. This book is filled with pathos. Reading about how August abused, hit, and was cruel toward Rosie was heart wrenching and made me want to scream at the page.
Is this book predictable? Maybe somewhat. If you pick up any romance novel, you are likely to anticipate that there will be a love triangle. Despite it being predictable, it sure is entertaining. Water for Elephants is one of those novels that will keep you engaged from beginning to end. If you pick it up, you will have a hard time setting it down. I highly recommend this book. I would give it a 7 ½ out of 10 stars.
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