Tracy Rhodes's Reviews > Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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May 25, 07

Read in May, 2007

I do like a good vintage-travelling-circus story - "Geek Love", HBO's "Carnivale" (which I was really sad to see cancelled), etc... In fact, this book reminded me of "Carnivale" - I had a hard time believing the author's idea to write the book wasn't inspired by the series.

I liked the perspective from which the story was told - a feisty 90-something old man reflecting in flashbacks on his adventures in a travelling circus 70 years earlier, while lamenting the indignities of his current nursing-home existence. The characters of this book were mostly well-rendered and interesting, especially the circus folks, and the author did an awesome job of depicting the down and dirty details of circus life in the Depression era. She said she took a lot of anecdotes out of actual circus diaries and oral histories, and I think that sense of authenticity is apparent.

The flashback plot itself is pretty standard, somewhat uninspired "young hero falls in love at first sight with damsel in distress in thrall to dastardly villain" kind of stuff. A certain level of disbelief suspension is required throughout the book, for things like how the hero in question gets hooked up with the circus in the first place, and for various parts of the storyline relating to the elephant they pick up along the way (like - spoiler alert! - how she only understands Polish... And who just happens to speak Polish? Why, our hero!). The storyline of the hero as an old man, with his failing body and mind but a tenacious spirit, is poignant stuff. However much you're rooting for something good to happen to him, though, and as charming as the ending of the story is, what does occur is still pretty hard to swallow.

Overall, I thought the story was well-paced and the transitions from the past to current day perspectives were smoothly handled. The author's writing style is engaging, and I found myself carried along by the story and missing the book when I had to set it down to go to work. Good stuff, all told.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Rachel I agree with the Carnivale part - there were a few too many similarities for me to not be able to make connections.


Tracy Thank you for expressing my opinion so well. :)



Wendy Thiessen I loved "Carnivale" and was completely exasperated to see it canceled. (just when the fate of mankind hangs in the balance between good and evil!)Other than both taking places in old time circuses though, I don't see the comparison. The book had some badly behaving humans and animal cruelty. The HBO series seemed to be more about the battle between good and evil (and those with special powers to make the battle really interesting). But it's been a few years and maybe I'm not remembering everything.
They are making a movie of this due April of next year. The book will probably be much better but hopefully they do a good job.


Christine So funny to see you made the Carnivale reference. I was thinking the same thing the entire time I was reading this book!


Kristin I loved Carnivale they cancelled it becasue the producer said they had no where else to take the story. Which I think was completely not the case. Def was a great show though!


Robin Oh, I remember Geek Love! That was weird and unsettling, but so much better than Water for Elephants!


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