Water for Elephants Author:Sara Gruen 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 ... more »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.« less
Believe the hype you have heard about this book. Gruen's characters leap off the page and into your mind they are so well concieved. Almost every element you could want in a book is here - humor, a bit of a mystery, drama, angst, terror, compassion. It is about relationships; human to human; human and animal. It's about falling in love in an instant. It's about history. It's about life with a traveling circus and all the various personalities that make up a community.
The only word of caution I have is that there are elements of animal cruelty portrayed if that makes you squeemish.
I almost didn't read this book because of the wait list (over 900 people!) and because my TBR pile is now a TBR mountain. I'm glad I did read it. Knocked it out in two nights. Memorable read.
Life was hard in the 1930's, there was no work, the stock market crashed. The romance and excitement of the traveling circus was the television of that time. Of course, the circus life itself was hard, gritty, and terrible. And always, underneath it all, one finds compassion.
This is a love story, between a man and a woman, between a man and himself.
OK, First I must tell you that I don't really like circuses - at least the old fashioned kind. That's primarily because I had always heard that they mistreated their animals. This book did nothing but reinforce that opinion.
Even given that though, this is a VERY good book. Well researched with fascinating insight into the life of a 3rd rate travelling circus in during the Depression. The story and the action never slows down until the dramatic and surprising conclusion. And even though many of the characters were, frankly, nasty, the goodness and morality of the main character and others gives you hope.
Highly recommended. 4.5* (It would have been 5* if I had been a circus fan.)
Brilliant is an understatement - wonderfully plotted, well paced, characters with depth (both human and non). You can taste the popcorn and smell the hay. You worry throughout the book that things will turn out badly, but you know they simply can't. There should be more than 5 stars available.
Great book! I really wasn't all into it at first because I was not interested in Depression-era circus life. But I am telling you, as little as this interests you, this book is great and it will MAKE you interested in circus life. It's told by the main character when he is near the end of his days in a nursing home which makes it interesting since he is telling a story of his past.
I really wanted to enjoy this book because of all the hype it got ... but it was just too depressing for me! I finished it, but it was definitely a struggle.
Don't get me wrong, Sara Gruen is a fantastic writer! The book makes you feel like you're back in the Great Depression experiencing everything they did. I LOVED the whole idea of running away and joining the circus.
I expected the book to focus more on the romance and I think that's where I was dissapointed! For me, I didn't feel that the two main characters had any chemistry.
The way the story was progressing, I expected a predictable and melancholy end to the book ... but I was wrong. The ending was the best part of the book for me!
So it was a little too sad for my taste (and I definitely didn't like the animal abuse), but I don't regret reading it!
Awesome, creative, historical fiction based on circa 1919 traveling circus. I passed this on to both elderly parents and 20-something daughter who loved it. I was so enthralled by the personality of the elephants, that I went on to do further research into their intelligence.
When a book gets a lot of attention, sometimes I'll resist reading it. I'm glad I went ahead and got this one. I loved it! I really didn't think I'd like it due to the circus storyline, but I couldn't put it down and I find myself still thinking about this wonderful story. Parts of it made me sad to the point of having to remind myself it was fiction, but overall, I just loved this book!!
I finished this book days ago, it only took me a day and a half to read, but I wanted to take my time on the review (a cat tried to force me to write it earlier dont ask) so here goes.
Water for Elephants is soon to be a major motion picture, and I have the complex that even though I know it will make the movie not as good I MUST read all books before I see the movie that is based on it. This one has been in my to read pile in all honesty since it came out in 2008, I can now officially say I regret it sitting in my pile that long unread. This book is perhaps one of the best books I have read. It is the best of 2011, sure I havent read a ton yet this year but I do not see its spot changing too much.
The writing style is excellent I love how it flips back and forth between old a Jacob and Young Jacob. Old Jacob really is what you picture as the typical crotchety old man, the one you know is on the porch shaking his cane saying Dang Kids get off my lawn!, but somehow you just cant be mad at him for it. Especially when you see how la his family is with him. Young Jacob is a good kid, he makes mistakes but he earnestly wants to do right by people and he is a spitfire about it.
This book is a MUST read, and I do mean must. For seeing how circuses worked on the inside in the great depression. If the movie manages to get even half the depth of story and character that the book does it will be fantastic. At its core Water for Elephants is a love story, but its a life story as much as anything with love just happening as it does in the natural course of life. Good writing, good story, history and love what else can you ask for in a novel
I immediately fell in love with the 90 (or 93) year-old narrator and protagonist of this story. His memories of his time with the circus and his love for one of the performers were detailed and fascinating. The research of Sara Gruen was apparent. I was engrossed in the history and the characters. Some of it was very dark but that was offset by the antics of the animals and the strong backbone of the characters. The author pulled no punches, but instead opened a window on a world that most of us have never even imagined.
Excellent, a great story about people in the circuses of the 1930's. Follows the story of a guy that get on to a circus and all that happens. Historically correct info with adventure and a love story too. Well written and flows well.
This is my second time reading this book. It is just like running away to be in the circus, if you lived in the Depression. The characters are marvelously real. I had a hard time putting this down, which was sad because I read it so fast!
My daughter has been asking me to read this book for years. I resisted because I read the synopsis and thought a story about a circus in the era of the great depression? Nah. I finally read it and gave it a go and couldnt put the book down. Seriously this is one of the best books Ive read in years! I felt like I was right there. The narrative shifts back and forth between old Jacob and young Jacob seamlessly. I strongly regret waiting so long to read this book. I would have paid full price. It is a haunting story and often had me thinking of my own aging. What will it feel like to be inside a body that is old and doesnt function like it used to, yet the mind still feels young?
The movie doesn't hold a candle to the text but did a decent job. Hollywood couldn't possible keep up with the novel's detail to emotional and psychological narrative. The book takes the reader on a train ride with the characters with vivid descriptions and details. Reading the book first made it easy to fill in the gaps not possible in the film version.
The author created a beautiful, believable story that was entertaining and touching.
The characters are strong, relate well and are enjoyable as if you met them in real life. And as strong as they are, you just might have!
Bitter-sweet in many ways because of Jacob's loss and the trials he goes through with the circus, and the suffering of others he feels, the sweet moments, the good times, are made that much more so by the struggles.
The amazing ending makes this book one in a million, and has you picking it back up again and again to enjoy the story of Jacob that is just as refreshingly adventurous as the first time you read it.
I had this book on my bookshelf for awhile and finally decided to read it and I'm so glad that I did! It is so well written and very interesting. I learned alot about the circus that I did not know and the story that revolves around it is awesome! I want to see the movie to compare it to the book. Hope it is as good! You will never go to the circus again without thinking of the characters in this book and their story!
This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
I was intrigued by the detail of life on a circus train, the animals, the hierarchy, the rules and the life styles. A fun easy read that makes you laugh, cry, and think about how people treat each other. Highly recommended for those who can enjoy a bit of violence and sex too.
I loved this book. It's one of those you just don't want to put down. Here's a review as written on the back cover:
"The circus, the Great Depression, a complex elephant, equally complex love, the mists and twists of memory articulated in the utterly winning voice of a very old man who's seen it all: these are the irresistible elements of "Water for Elephants". Sara Gruen has written an utterly transporting novel richly full of the stuff of life."
Robert Olen Butler
This is an uplifting tale of aging, told from the viewpoint of a 90+ former circus veterinarian now living in a nursing home. His life included an ivy league education, financial ruin, romance, drama, and more. His story is told in chapters alternating between reminiscences and present day realities of nursing home life. This is one of the best books I've read lately; it is entertaining, compelling, humorous, and serious all at the same time. The ending may surprise you. It did me.