Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants

Jacob Jankowski is now an nonogenarian in a nursing home, but he keeps remembering himself as a twenty something during the Depression. Young Jacob has but to sit for his final exams at Cornell before becoming a licensed veterinarian. Unfortunately, just before the exams, he finds out that both of his parents were killed in a car accident and that the family veterinarian practice and home have been mortgaged to the hilt – to pay his Ivy League tuition. Orphaned and stunned, Jacob walks out of his exams and hops onto a train that happens to hold the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Thus begins his career as the show’s vet. In the meantime, he learns the ins and outs of the circus, faces the harrowing politics of the show, and falls in love.

Some of this book was, as I mentioned, harrowing. The brutality and inhumanity found on the circus is mind boggling. The subject-matter was clearly well researched by Gruen, as evidenced by the notes in my edition and the photographs included at the beginning of several chapters. Also, the book was fairly well written. I liked the narrative structure with the nursing home scenes interspersed with the circus scenes. And the ending was unexpected but fitting.

While I admired the setting and the writing, the plot just didn’t completely come together for me. I enjoyed it but felt a distance from the characters. I especially didn’t care about Marlena, the love interest. She wasn’t developed at all – other than her pink sequins. And, while it could be the result of reading it on a ten-hour transatlantic flight, the climatic moment foreshadowed in the first chapter didn’t catch me. Even the happy ending didn’t touch me like I felt it should have. Also, there was a lot of bawdiness that I felt was overplayed. Still, the book is set at an interesting time and in an interesting place. It’s probably worth the read for the circus setting alone.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen [rating:3]

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