Saturday Read: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
As any loyal reader of my reviews (I like to dream, okay?) knows, I’m a book snob. I turn my nose up at the “Recommended” table at my local bookstore and never look twice at the bestsellers list on Amazon. However, I’m learning that I’m not always right – a huge step – and giving in to those recommended reads, often with great results.
Which brings me to my current position curled up in bed, my latest read lying next to me (which is next to an empty pudding container): “Water for Elephants.” Since this book was published in 2006, I’ve yet to hear a bad comment about it. Somehow, I managed to avoid it for the past 4 years but with it being turned into a movie (with RPatz!), I thought it was time to give it a whirl.
“Water for Elephants” tells the story of Jacob Jankowski. It flips back and forth between the present when Jacob is ninety or ninety-three (he is a little unsure and doesn’t really care) and when he was 23. The modern-day Jacob lives in a nursing home, where he is far from happy and very aware of his gradual, but inevitable demise. One day, the circus comes to town and sets up close to the home. This triggers memories in Jacob that he has tried to suppress and so begins the switching between the 1930′s and modern day.
In 1931, Jacob is just finishing up his training at Cornell Veterinary School when his parents perish in a car accident. Distraught and broke, Jacob leaves in the middle of finals examinations and eventually finds himself on a the train of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus. Initially, the members of the circus aren’t too happy to have a stowaway, but when they find out he is essentially a vet, they are thrilled and he is hired. Jacob works hard at caring for the animals and through his work, meets Marlena, the beautiful star of the show. Of course, she is already married, to August, the horrible and unpredictable Equestrian Director. Along with Uncle Al, the deranged head-honcho, Rosie, the elephant, and a few other characters, the cast is rounded out.
“Water for Elephants” is truly a great read from the very first page to the very last. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true! The book grabs you right from the get-go. Part of the entertainment is the fact that Gruen seamlessly switches between the two eras. This keeps the reader on their toes and always surprised. She also meticulously researched both the era and the business of the circus, down to the correct lingo and typical acts of the time. As a history buff, I found it an interesting peek into Depression-era America and really appreciated her efforts. Reading this, I felt like I learned a lot while also being entertained, and that is something I always appreciate in a good book. Also, Jacob is a truly lovable narrator and you really grow to care for him. The nursing home portions reinforce that, so much so that I can say I’m emotionally attached to this one.
“Water for Elephants” was a beautiful story. It one won’t make you re-evaluate your priorities, but it was genuinely entertaining and a wonderful book that’s from the heart.
Got some free time? Need a good book to take your mind off of class? Check out Alex’s other book reviews!