Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Water for Elephants

I have to say that Water for Elephants was a very enjoyable story to read. I've seen this book in plenty of airport gift shops for the past year, but had a friend say it was worth the read. So glad I gave it a chance.

Book Description: (from

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.

It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

It was such a treat to get swept into the gritty and colorful world of a traveling circus during the Great Depression. To me - and probably most readers - this is not a well-studied or talked about story in history so I found most of the story so engrossing and educational. I love learning about new things in history. You can definitely tell that Sara Gruen meticulously researched this era for this book.

My favorite parts were when Jacob interacted with Kinko or roustabouts (laborers). I was eye-opening to see how Jacob straddled the two worlds of "the haves" and "have nots" and had a knack for being authentic and equally comfortable in both worlds.

I know this has been categorized as a "romantic" story, but I didn't really feel that was a strong overtone. I really enjoy romantic story lines, but this was a compelling book without the love story. Gruen does a magnificent job with dialog and pacing throughout the novel. It does have a few crude, sexually-explicit scenes described, but given the culture the book is set in it was not all that shocking and honestly added to the grittiness of the story.

I was surprised to learn (thank goodness I had finished the book) that they are making Water for Elephants into a movie. It comes out next year and stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Totally think Reese will be amazing in this film...having a hard time with the idea of Edward the vampire playing Jacob. I am so glad I didn't have his face in my mind as I was reading this story...would have totally given me a different experience. I kept picturing Ryan Gosling as I read the story! However, I hope I am pleasantly surprised and proved wrong when I go see this next year.

To recap:

Worth reading? Absolutely - a historical treat!

Worth buying my own copy? Undecided...if you like to pass along books to friends, then I would buy a copy

Recommend to friends? Yes, especially those who like historical fiction

Stars: 5 out of 5

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