In the beginning of Water For Elephants Jacob Jankowski tells us that he is ninety or ninety-three. One or the other. He's not really sure anymore. His body betrayed him years ago and Jacob now fears that his mind isn’t far behind. Shuffling along miserably behind his walker, he’s living out his final days in the nursing home and hating every minute of it. Just another invisible senior citizen who’s family and the world as a whole has forgotten about.
When the circus comes to town and sets up its Big Top tents across the street Jacob comes alive and through a series of flashbacks begins to tell us his life’s story. Taking us back to when he joined the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show On Earth, a traveling circus he toured with during the great depression. So step right up folks because this old man has quite the story to tell.
At the age of 23 Jacob had a predictable future set out ahead of him, one that certainly didn’t involve joining the circus. However with his parents untimely death and the bank foreclosing on his family home Jacob soon finds himself homeless, heartbroken and mentally quite unable to sit his final veterinary exams. When an exotic, animal filled train steams toward him Jacob doesn’t even think. Flinging himself aboard the boxcar and inadvertently changing his destiny forever.
I absolutely adored this book, alternately falling in love with both Jacob, the crotchety old man and Jacob, the young, moral and penniless circus veterinarian. Water For Elephants transported me to another time and quickly became one of those books I never wanted to end.
Author Sara Gruen has researched the depression era circus life down to the smallest of details and I feel that this captivating and vivid story will appeal to almost anyone. Filled with action, adventure and a sweet forbidden romance there is also a fascinating sideshow of secondary characters including a clever Polish Elephant, a grouchy little person as Jacob’s roommate and a cruel and schizophrenic animal trainer whose wife Jacob just happens to fall in love with. All of this has been wrapped together with a compelling and innovative behind the scenes look aboard a travelling circus train. Showing us more often then not the darker side of circus life after the big top closes down. This is a love story, a life story, an animal lover’s story but above all it’s a circus story and who of us hasn’t dreamed about running away and joining the circus at some point in our lives? And the ending… *sigh*
I can't say enough good about this book, its easily one of my favourite reads this year and with Robert Pattison now taking on the upcoming movie role version of Jacob, I was able to picture him while reading, making it all the more sweeter. Cheers!