[Review] Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title: Water for Elephants: A Novel
Author: Sara Gruen
Page: 414 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subjects: Circus Performers, Elephants - Training, Love Stories, Social Conditions (1933 - 1945)
First Published: 2006

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.
By morning, he’s landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he’s in love.
In an America made colorless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all…
- Synopsis from book cover

I know this book was very popular when it came out a few years ago but I did not as much as give it a thought about reading it. I guess I was turned off by the title and wasn’t really enthusiastic about the circus idea.

Now a few years later, what with the movie coming out soon, I was forced to think about it again and decided to give it a try anyway. Well, watching the movie trailer might have something to do with my decision and although I am not really a fan of Rob Pattinson but there’s no denying that he looked kind of cute in it. At least he didn't seem pale and suicidal :)

On with the book.

Why oh why did I put off reading this book for so long?? Feel like banging my head somewhere for missing the boat so many years ago. Ok I’m kidding about injuring myself.


Once I started, I couldn't stop. If I don't have to go to work and sleep at night, I could have read and read for hours on end.

If I were to pick one word to describe this book it would be colorful. The circus scene during the Depression era was one thing: the traveling, the animals (who wouldn't love the animals), the shows, the culture and I learned quite a bit of circus jargon like First of May, kinker, roustabout ... One thing I know for sure: the circus was not just a job for them, it has become their life, their home and their family.

And then there are the characters. Lovable characters, despicable characters, patronizing characters, freaks... Even the animals have their own characters and they came to live in this book. But most of all I like Jacob Jankowski character. Not the young Jacob, but the older one.

For the benefit of those who haven't read the book: the story is told in a first-person narration by Jacob. He is  ninety or ninety-three years old (he cannot remember what year it is) and living in a retirement home. A local circus at his town and a certain argument with fellow resident forces Jacob to reminisce the time when he was working in the circus in 1931.

So back to the old Mr. Jankowski character. It was a delightful to read about his present life. All those years has turned him into a grumpy old man and as much as he wants to be treated as an able adult, his actions sometimes resemble that of a child. And it's always funny when that happens, I can't help but laughing out loud.

All the while I was reading I had no idea how the ending would be like. It was quite unexpected, a bit sad but totally satisfying. Water For Elephants is such a delight and I would recommend it to everybody.

And now I am ready for the movie :)


Trish said…
I had mixed feelings about this book. I read it a couple of years ago when it first came out, and yes, it was very readable, but I'm just not enough of a circus person to really appreciate the theme.
Teacher/Learner said…
So glad to hear that you liked it. I was taken by it too and found it very hard to put down. Can't wait for the movie and I hope "Edward" can pull it off :D
Cat said…
I've had this book on my list for ages and still haven't read it. Glad you enjoyed it and maybe your review will motivate me to read it soon.
Sidne said…
such a cute blog. i wanted to let you know to stop by my blog for a quick and easy book give away today only. ends at 10pm tonight.