Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Water For Elephants

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, has been in my TBR pile for quite some time.  I really wish I would've gotten to it sooner, but it was because I won a contest over at One Person's Journey Through Books and Coffee, that I finally got it in my hot little hands (thanks, Sheila!).  And then I still didn't get to it fast enough.

Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob Jankoswki.  When the story begins he is 90 (or 93; he can never remember which).  He lives in an assisted living facility and is visited by family members who have scheduled a rotation for who must visit Grandpa that week.  Interspersed between Jacob's account in the nursing home are his memories of working on The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth during the Great Depression.  His memories introduce us to his true love, circus life in the early 1930s when most circuses were going bankrupt and disbanding, and Rosie the elephant.

While this was obviously about the glory days of the American circus, I feel it was also a look into old age, but not in a depressing way.  I loved 93-year-old Jacob.  I thought he was hilarious.  It must be hell (and he freely admits that it is) to be perfectly aware mentally but unable to move like you used to, to not have anyone believe you because they think you're going senile, and to be forgotten about by the family you fought so hard for.  93-year-old Jacob is a tell-it-like-it-is older gentleman.  He doesn't hold any punches and he's not afraid to tell you when you're an "old coot."  Seriously, he was hilarious.

Young Jacob was just as upstanding and belligerent, but a little less crotchety.  I think Gruen did a great job creating a character that was easily two different ages throughout the story.  It was easy to see how young Jacob became old Jacob.  I also think she did a fantastic job of skipping back and forth between ages.  She didn't outline each chapter to say which Jacob was speaking, but it was easy to pick up which one was in the forefront again.

Overall, I loved this book.  The characters were well-developed and vivid, and it was obvious that Gruen did her research.  Not that I know anything about circuses, but I certainly felt like she had done her best to make the details as accurate as possible (she even incorporated some true circus stories into the book, which made them even more hilarious or unbelievable, depending on the details).  I highly recommend this book just for the sake of reading a book with well-drawn characters that will capture your heart, but the fact that it's about a circus (that has an elephant, no less) just makes it even better.  5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Oh I am so glad to see you loved this! I really enjoyed it too! I learned a lot about the circus and had no idea that the workers slept in the train cars among the animals.... guess I had never thought about it before.

    Great review!

  2. Just stopping by via the hop! I love meeting my fellow book bloggers so just thought I would say hello!

    This book sounds really good, I may have to add it to the TBR list!

    And the plot thickens...

  3. I have been eagerly wanting to read this book. I LOVE ELEPHANTS and when I saw the title, I knew that I needed to read it soon. Glad to hear that you enjoyed it. I need to go out and buy it and read it as soon as humanly possible.

    Jennifer @

  4. Awesome review! I am almost finished with this book and am loving it. I also wish I would have gotten to it sooner, but it makes for a fantastic summer read.