Monday, September 9, 2013

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen (2006)

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.

Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.

  • I liked it, and definitely thought it was a fun read. It's also sort of dark: the beginning starts out with Jacob's parents' death, and so he is left alone with nowhere to go. Then you see the circus, and you might think "oh, here comes fun!" but keep in mind that this part of the story is all taking place during the Great Depression. The characters all have their dark sides, and I loved how that played out in the story.
  • The interactions with the animals were also quite real, and there is also a shockingly horrifying scene - the climax - that has the elephant as a huge part of it. Honestly, that part disturbed me to the point that I preferred the chimpanzee more. Haha, maybe I just can't stomach certain ideas.
  • I thought Uncle Al and August were greatly portrayed: they're interesting and quirky, a bit mental... Walter and Queenie, I also liked.
  • Jacob serves the usual role of the protagonist in unfortunate circumstances, but unfortunately I didn't feel much for the love interest, Marlena. She's beautiful, blushes a lot, falls in love with Jacob, and happens to be married to someone else. The most interesting part about her was when she was telling her story of how she met August, but otherwise, she didn't seem to stand out to me other than through her "sparkles of sequins" in the show.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars!

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