Marika Gillis's Reviews > Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Jun 17, 08

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in February, 2008

"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant...
An elephant's faithful- one hundred per cent!"
-Theodor Seuss Geisel, Horton Hatches an Egg

Water for Elephants is a novel set against the gritty and hard luck life of an old-time train circus. The main character, Jacob Jankowski, is a cranky misunderstood old man ("...ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.") living in a nursing home when the circus comes to town. As the old man anxiously awaits the arrival of his family to take him to visit the circus, he remembers his own days working as a vetrinarian for Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The story jumps from the present as Mr. Jankowski is cared for by a kind nurse, to the summer of 1931- the summer his life shattered around him and, in blind desperation, he fled... into the unforgiving life of a traveling circus.

I must admit that, despite it's status as a #1 New York Times Bestseller, I approached this novel with some hesitation. I wasn't necessarily excited to read about a boy who joins the circus but I was pleasantly surprised! This book was absolutely mesmerizing and completely fulfilling. I was hooked the minute I finished the prologue. Sara Gruen captures the fascinating, magical circus excitement with such crystal clear perfection that you can practically smell the tang of cotton candy intermingled with the sharp pungent smell of animals. Through her description and with the help of black and white photographs preceding each chapter, you are transported to the 1930's circus scene as you turn the pages of this book. You can practically see the clowns passing out peanuts and watch as the elephant steals hats off the passing "rubes" (townspeople). But the delightful snippets of circus happiness are just a fading facade in contrast to the deceit, mayhem, and murder that happens behind the scenes. And you can definitely see (and feel) the horror that begins to unfold in the pages of this book...

I was so immersed in this novel that I felt as though I were wrapped up in the circus life with Jacob Jankowski and, at the most critical moments of anticipation, I found myself gritting my teeth and resisting the urge to look ahead to see what would happen next. I spent entire chapters holding my breath anxiously as his story played out. And I wasn't disappointed.

But, boy, was I surprised!

The end of this book left me with my mouth hanging open, and my eyes wide with wonder. When I finally closed the book, it was with triumphant satisfaction. I felt that no book had ever concluded more appropriately. I would highly recommend this book to anybody. But, if you have anything important to accomplish over the next 24 hours, you might want to wait. Like my friend, Shera, you just might be unable to put it down, and find yourself finishing it the day after you get it! It's that good.
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