Thursday, May 03, 2007

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The circus is a source of fascination for young and old. Did you ever wonder about the people who work in the circus? In Water for Elephants Gruen tells the story of Jacob Jankowski a man who just happened to land on the train of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a 1930s traveling circus fighting to stay solvent during the Great Depression. Jacob was about to take his final exams from Cornell school of veterinary medicine when his parents died in an auto accident. His plans to join his father in the practice of veterinary medicine were clearly not going to happen. But that is only the start of his tale. His father was deeply in debt, having mortgaged the house to put Jacob through school. There was nothing left; no one had paid his dad with anything but chickens and such since the start of the depression. Too dazed to write his exams, Jacob walks away from the school and lands on the train carrying the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

A bittersweet statement on growing old in America, this novel tells Jacob’s story from his perspective as a resident of a nursing home. Jacob remembers Marlena the lovely but married star of the show. Her husband, August, is dashing but vicious and trains (and often beats) the animals. Among other characters are Kinko the dwarf clown, Rosie the elephant who only seems un-trainable, and Camel a circus worker who suffers from “Jake Leg” (an affliction that affected tens of thousands of people who drank Jamaican ginger extract during Prohibition, not knowing it could cause paralysis).

The book is full of authentic details about life during the depression and about circus life. Wonderfully written, a pleasure to read I highly recommend this to all lovers of good story.


1 comment:

bonnie said...

Spot on AW! Regardless of your reading predilections, this book offers an absorbing plot, a unique and most interesting setting in terms of both time and place, evocative and swiftly flowing language, and characters to care about, not to mention a surprising and upbeat ending. You won't want to put it down until you've devoured the last sentence.