Since it’s still selling like hot cakes, I decided to write a review about Water For Elephants, which I enjoyed immensely. Enjoy!
If you ever wondered about life in the early days of the traveling circus, then Water for Elephants is for you. Of course, you don’t have to be a circus enthusiast to enjoy Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel, which weaves together an old man’s recollections of his days with Benzini Brothers Greatest Show on Earth. The biggest show happening around Benzini Brothers, which is actually run by a bloke known as Uncle Al, isn’t the one under the Big Top.
The story’s narrator, Jacob Jankowski, accidentally jumps onto a circus train and finds himself amidst a color cast of characters when he is employed as the circus’ veterinarian. There’s Walter the “clown midget” and his terrier with whom Jacob shares a room and Camel, an old man who takes Jacob under his wing. And, of course, Jacob meets a beautiful young performer named Marlena who shares his love of animals. Marlena is married to Jacob’s boss, the bizarre and mentally unbalanced animal trainer, August.
Through the course of the book, college-educated Jacob loses his innocence and “becomes a man” through weird rites of passage. Having never lived the life of a “poor man,” Jacob adapts well to hard labor and the dirtiness that exists behind-the-scenes of the circus. Though Jacob constantly finds himself battling his inner desire for Marlena, his anger against August for his poor treatment of both people and animals, and with the harsh realities of a Depression-era circus. As the plot develops, Jacob and the reader learn of deplorable practices like red lighting (throwing the grunt workers off the moving train at night) and encounter the seedy happenings among circus folks including massive consumption of illegal alcohol and acts of sexual deviancy.
One of my favorite protagonists is Rosie, an elephant acquired by Uncle Al from a circus gone under. Rosie’s human-like manner is not only amusing, it’s endearing. She is cruelly trained by August to perform with Marlena. However, Rosie is especially fond of Jacob who cares for the animals in the menagerie, including Marlena’s horses. Jacob and Marlena build a special bond causing August to become suspicious, and for good reason.
When writing this book, Sara Gruen did her homework researching early circus life. Therefore, Water for Elephants teaches as well as entertains. Wildly amusing, thoroughly intelligent, and strangely touching, Water for Elephants is a must-read, even if you never wanted to run away to join the circus.