Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: Water for Elephants

Note: I apologize for the long wait between posts -- It's been a difficult time for me in the real world, and I needed the time to sort a lot of things out. Don't worry; I'm okay! Sometimes life gets the best of us, but there's always a good book around to set things right!

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill May 26, 2006 


"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 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."


Childhood imagination is what comes to mind when you think about running away to join a circus. This book is exactly the reason why a childhood dream can only be a dream as it portrays the story of adults with their struggles and their relationships. This book had a lot of elements to it that made it a rather enjoyable read - it had a sense of playfulness, romance, drama, heartache and soul. I absolutely loved the portrayal of both past and present Jacob; the main character who's story alternates between his life in the circus during the Great Depression and present day, when he's a crotchety old man who hates life in a nursing home. 

The different characters, with all their faults, strangeness and personalities were all very-well portrayed, each one having their own story or difficulty. The only problem, however, was that there were quite an array of characters and although it wasn't a problem to keep track of who was who, it was unsettling only knowing them so briefly. Even the animals portrayed in the book had character and I wanted to know absolutely more about them, especially Rosie the elephant who had a rather prominent role.

The themes in this book suggest present themselves as personal struggles; mental illness, abuse, money, social, racial and religious tensions, and one that I feel like it would be overlooked is the care for our elderly despite the theme being rather prominent; it's one of those things that carry the story but you may or may not think about. This one theme suggests that with age, the world supposedly forgets about you despite the fact that you lived the history. I honestly think that's beautiful.

So what did I think of this book, really? I liked it, but I didn't fall in love with it. Was it enjoyable? Yes, absolutely! But I really wanted to know more about the history of some of the other characters, I wanted to know what happened to some of the circus animals that we were introduced to, I wanted to know more about the lives of Jacob's children travelling with the circus. I felt like there were some holes that I wish could have been filled.I thought this book was a bit uneven too as I sometimes wanted to know more about the elderly Jacob as opposed to the young one. I think I quite like cranky old Jacob better… much more endearing. Readability was decent, but I felt like there was a desire that was met unsatisfied.

Rating: 3/5 Bookworms

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