Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Pages [paperback]: 331
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.
Memorable Quote: “Keeping up the appearance of having all your marbles is hard work, but important.”
Favorite Characters: Walter, Marlena, Jacob, & Rosie
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.
I came into this book not expecting much at all, and ended up excessively loving it! This is one of those stories where you think you’ve figure out exactly how everything is going to go . . . And then nothing turns out the way you thought it would.
Books that have a frame for the story like Water for Elephants had will, if done well, really get me to know and love the characters. Having Jacob’s narration of the circus events interrupted by ‘present day Jacob’ was a nice little detail. I definitely felt sad for the ninety-something year old, feeling nearly helpless and lonely. As he feels he’s losing control of his life, his mind slips back to the past, and through these lapses we’re told the story.
I never knew anything about how circuses traveled about in the past, and hearing about the cutthroat America during the Great Depression certainly brought an overpowering feel of reality to the story. Jobs were few and far between, and those that had them did anything they could to keep them. Describing the desperate times, the hobo jungles, and the pay cuts served to present a great representation of the time period.
I loved hearing about the different circus acts, though I know that was but a miniscule part of the story. The tiny facts and funniest little things kept my interest and had me smiling. This book is definitely dark and depressing at moments. At others, it is brilliantly bright and full of hope. Any novel that can pull off both sides of the spectrum nearly flawlessly is excellent in my book.
I give Water for Elephants 5/5 stars. It was fantastic, and I’ll definitely have to check out the upcoming movie now! I really recommend it. I have a feeling it is one of those books I will never forget.