Sara Gruen Water for Elephants
331 pp. Algonquin Books 2006
Summary (From Goodreads): 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.
This is a beautiful book. I don’t usually read adult best sellers because I’m too busy reading YA. But I read Water for Elephants for a couple of reasons. First, one of my avid readers read it and recommended that I do the same and let me borrow her copy. Second, a couple of my YA students chose to read it for the Books to Movies project. I also plan on going to see the movie! (I love Reese Witherspoon!)
What I’m used to reading in best sellers is a lot of lengthy, flowery descriptions. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, however, has this balanced perfectly. I could tell this wasn’t published as YA, but it read so easily. The details she uses are excellent and never over-done. Sara Gruen’s writing in this book left me yearning for more, even after I finished reading it. She’s incredibly gifted and I’d be happy to read more of her books.
The story itself was completely addicting. Jacob is a well-developed character that I enjoyed as both a young and old man. It was fun reading him as a grumpy, forgetful old man, and as a caring, tough, and thoughtful young man. And as much as I loved Jacob, I couldn’t get enough of minor characters like Walter and even Rosie.
Water for Elephants is a book I know I’ll read more than once because it’s timeless. Its themes of love and overcoming obstacles will resonate with many readers–old and young, male and female. I strongly recommend reading this gorgeous, timeless novel.