A review of Water For Elephants
by Sara Gruen
As a young child, all of us have dreamed of running away to the circus. In the historical novel Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, Jacob Jankowski, a run away college boy, partakes in the dream we all had in our youth. Written in 2006, Gruen's novel was on the New York Times #1 bestseller list for 12 weeks, as well as winning many other literary awards.
The setting in this novel jumps from The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a circus during the Great Depression, and Jacob as an elderly man living in a retirement home, and who causes a whirlwind of trouble. The nomadic circus travels by train up the East coast. The train has a major social order, the further up you are on the train (mainly for performers), the more important you are. As you head to the back of the train there are ...view middle of the document...
Jacob starts as a clean up boy, but thanks to his newly found friend Camel, a set-up worker, becomes the circus' first veterinarian. In doing so Jacob quickly climbs the social ladder, but still maintains a relationship with the workers who got him started. Jacob however makes a new friend in Marlina, a performer who he later falls in love with, and accuantince with August, a bipolar abusive man, who is married to Marlina. The three stick together throughout the majority of the novel, but hit a few snags in the road to say the least. Circus life consists of routine; set-up, perform, clean-up, move on. Also with a few skipped performances in between, which infuriates town folk. The theme of this story is definitely a coming of age. As Jacob copes with the loss of his parents, taking responsibility for the health of the animals, and trying to make a living in a time when many were on the streets.
Mr. Jankowski (how he was referred to at the retirement home) is an old, depressed, lonely man. With his wife dead, and only person who really cares about him; Rosemary, a nurse at the home. Jacob certainly does not care about following the rules, which the reader learns when he gets in fights with other patients, and throws lunch trays to the floor. The action in retirement home is that a circus is in town and everyone is chattering about their family, and who is taking them to the circus. Jacob never mentions to the other patients of his past, while others tell of when they worked at the circus.
As the story progresses tales of love, abuse, corruption, and murder are weaved into the story line. Not everything goes exactly to plan for Jacob. But this novel maintains an entertaining, and realistic plot. This novel is best for mature readers as there is definitely mature content. Water for Elephants is a book no fiction reader will be able to put down, and will leave your heart aching for the characters.