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Sara Gruen : Water for Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen
Title: Water for Elephants
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Published in: English
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 350
Date: 2007-04-09
ISBN: 1565125606
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Weight: 0.7 pounds
Size: 1.0 x 5.5 x 8.25 inches
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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. Review
Jacob Jankowski says: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other." At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn't always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn't a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn't write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.

Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob's life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the "menagerie" and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed, bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and... he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August's wife. Not his best idea.

The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena's and Rosie's pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it--and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely. --Valerie Ryan

Reviews: Kim (United Kingdom) (2008/04/03):
LOVED this book. It came highly recommended & didn't disappoint!

Linda (USA: VT) (2008/05/20):
Excellent story!!!! Real page turner

Vickytoria (USA: AK) (2008/07/08):
I was up until 2 am finishing this book last night...I LOVED it!! It is so good I have to get it back out in circulation again for others to enjoy! Vickytoria

leyla s (USA: CA) (2008/08/22):
i LOVED this book also!!! great story and great characters! a highly recommended book to read!!!

SouthernYankee (USA: TN) (2008/09/04):
I thoroughly enjoyed this book although I didn't expect to since I don't usually read books involving animals and am not a big circus fan. It was a good combination of the depression era, grieving process, and love story. The cast of fascinating characters were fully fleshed out.

Teresa (USA: AL) (2008/09/17):
I loved it! I stayed up until after 3 am just to finish it so I could see what happened. Parts of it made me laugh, others made me cry, and some parts just plain out made me mad. I highly recommend it, expecially for animal lovers.

Sarahb (USA: GA) (2008/10/07):
WOW! If you're wondering if this book is up to the "hype", yes it is.
A real page-turner! Loved it!

samanthanbr (USA: MO) (2008/10/20):
Lives up to the hype. Keep a box of kleenex nearby!

Allison (USA: KS) (2008/11/20):
To be quite honest...I wasn't a fan. I read it through, because I felt obligated to due to all the high praise I read about...but I honestly didn't like it, as much as I wanted to.

Kasey (USA: CA) (2008/11/21):
Loved it!

Clair (USA: VA) (2009/01/11):
I loved this book. My favorite for 2008.

shan (USA: VA) (2009/04/01):
LOVE IT WITH A PASSION. Would recommend it to everyone because we all want to read a good book. Do not miss out on this book it is a must read no matter what your favorite genre may be.

Kelly (USA: MO) (2009/06/11):
Maybe I was just really exited about reading it but the book didn't read up to expectations. The story was intriguing and had it's moments but it felt like the writing style had been dumbed down which was very disappointing. It's uncommon perspective of circus life is what saved it really.

Tia (USA: CO) (2009/07/05):
Who knew I'd learn all about circus life? Parts of this book I loved, but others didn't live up to my expectations. Overall the book was a little depressing . . .

Melissa Linette (USA: PA) (2009/07/14):
Loved this story...I think any woman who reads this, especially as you get nearer to the end, will long to be adored the way Jacob adores Marlena. Loved the way it ended although I would have liked more info on what happened to the rest of Jacob's family.

Ratsfarm (USA: KY) (2009/08/26):
I was very disappointed in this book - especially after reading some of the reviews. I think it may be one of the 10 most depressing books I have ever read. I read to escape, not to relive the worst things in life - mine or anyone else. Lesley

alisonk (Cyprus) (2009/10/07):
loved it ,loved it ,loved it!!!!!!

missmay (Canada) (2010/01/27):
Wow, amazing book! This is a definate must read!

Emily (USA: MO) (2010/02/11):
A fun book that I reluctantly started, but couldn't help but finish. It bounces back and forth between the story of a young man come upon some bad luck who joins the staff of a circus crew (by accident more than anything else) and his older self, stuck in a nursing home at the age of 90...or is it 93? Really gives you insight into the life of a nursing home resident and how that's not what they've always been - they were once more alive than any of us!

Shelby (USA: NH) (2010/02/22):
Best book I've ever read! such a touching story. kept me going the whole time. so entertaining!!! LOVE ITT!!

Daynica (USA: CA) (2010/07/11):
This is the best novel I've read in a good long while. Definitely lives up to the hype--a must read!

♥Book_Worm♥ (USA: NY) (2011/04/13):
I loved this book! Can't wait for the movie :-)

Evann Ryan (USA: MI) (2011/04/26):
Amazing book! 9.5 out of 10 could not put it down!

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