Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

350 pages

Copyright 2006

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a rare novel with a story so engrossing, once started; one cannot put it down.  This thrilling, romantic story is Gruen’s third novel.  She has also written the best selling Riding Lessons and Flying Changes.  Her environmental values show in all of her books, showing how animals can teach people about love.  This New York Times #1 best seller is set on a depression era traveling circus that is brought to life through Gruen’s words.  Her impeccable research shines throughout this book; her author’s note mentioning many trips to Sarasota, Florida’s Ringling Brothers Museum.

Though he doesn’t speak of them, Jacob Jankowski, at ninety-something-years old, can still remember the sound of the concessions, the sight of raising the big top, and everything else about his days with the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

At twenty-three, Jacob is preparing to take the test that determines his future.  After he passes this veterinary exam, he will take on the family business.  However, an interruption in the classroom brings grave news when Jacob is asked to go identify his parents’ bodies from a car accident.  Following his parents’ death, Jacob finds himself losing his father’s practice and home to the bank.  Without money, a veterinary license, and family, he sees no other option than to leave his old town behind.  With no endpoint in mind, Jacob makes his way down the train tracks.  When a train comes by, he jumps aboard.

This rickety circus train holds the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  Jacob’s veterinary skills are put to use as he gains the job as the circus’s own vet.  At this point in the Great Depression, everyone working on this third-rate circus is lucky to have a job at all.  When Jacob sees the equestrian act of the show, Marlena, the star, entrances him.  She is also the wife of the boss, August.  As the circus loses more and more hope each day, life aboard the Benzini Brothers’ train gets darker and darker.  A new optimism comes with Rosie, though.  Rosie is the great, loving elephant left behind by a rundown circus.  Bonds grow quickly between Jacob and Marlena as they worked alongside each other with Rosie.  Even with their new show though, life aboard the train continues to get bleaker, especially as August’s mean streaks shone through.  The trio’s bond may be their only hope in survival.

While reading this book, you can feel the wind blowing past you as you sit atop the train, you can hear the character’s voices echoing in your head.  “This is a fiction reader’s dream come true, “ says Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo Get Lucky.  The memories of the ninety-something man mix with your own as he tells his tale.  You will be completely swept off your feet and into the circus’s dark twist and turns, unable to get out till the last page.  This book is simply and positively incredible.