Friday, August 6, 2010

"Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen

Stars: ☆☆☆☆

Summary: This book revolves around the life of Jacob Jankowski. The book vacillates between his life in a nursing home (in his 90s) and his memories of his life as a young man. As a young man, Jacob's life is pretty great. He's about to graduate from veterinary school and he fancies himself in love with one of his classmates. Then, one event changes his life - his parents are killed in a car crash. This is the middle of the Great Depression and he finds out after his parents’ deaths that they have left him with no home or money. He is completely desolate, financially and emotionally. Jacob, in a serendipitous turn of events, joins the circus. There he falls in love with the beautiful performer Marlena. Marlena, however, is married to the circus' animal trainer (who also happens to be pretty psychotic). As part of the circus he also meets the other important lady in his life - the elephant Rosie.
What I Think: I’m not a fan of the circus. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always felt that there was an almost sinister undertone to the circus. I have no idea where that thought comes from (probably just a figment of my very active imagination). Due to this dislike of the circus, I was somewhat reluctant to pick up “Water for Elephants.” When I did finally decide to read this book, it definitely exceeded my expectations.
Jacob is one of those characters that I found it impossible to dislike. He almost immediately grabbed ahold of my attention (and my heartstrings) and he didn’t let go until the very end of the book. I rooted for him during all of his crazy exploits as part of the circus crew. There’s something innately likable and relatable about Jacob. He’s a good person working towards a good life, and the tragic events that occur to him make him only more open to sympathy. I think that goodness in Jacob is one of the things I admired the most about this character. No matter what he faced, it was his genuine goodness that helped him survive.
The story itself is full of intrigue and a series of very interesting and unexpected events that Jacob is a part of. I never knew what to expect, much like Jacob himself, and that feeling had me gripping the book in anticipation of the next calamitous road block Jacob was going to have to deal with. I could almost physically feel the tension building throughout the novel, and the reader certainly obtains a satisfying conclusion to that tension.

The circus element, which I anticipated I would not like, actually added a quirkiness that was appropriate, and necessary to this book. The "freaks" that Jacob encounters and interacts with add depth and interest to the subplots going on in this book.
His relationships with Marlena and Rosie were the high points of this novel for me. These are the relationships were Jacob really took risks came into himself as the novel’s protagonist. His interactions with Rosie and Marlena revealed his heart and his passion as a man and a human being. These relationships also further revealed the type of man he was, in direct comparison to that of Marlena's crazy, abusive husband.
This is an extremely smart, well-crafted book that I would recommend to anyone. Even if you don’t like the circus. :)


sstaas said...

This is a great blog! I must come back and read more. BTW - you might be interested in submitting book reviews to

Steph said...

Thanks for reading! I'll keep that website in mind! :)

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