Steve Piacente's Reviews > Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Mar 08, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

Maintaining interest and momentum are big challenges when an author moves back and forth in time. Action-driven flashbacks can clash with a slower paced present day story, or the two can complement one another. Think how we hold our breath when the trapeze artist takes off, and then exhale when she safely locks hands with her partner.

Sara Gruen’s rendering of 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski is like that moment, a pause to process all we’ve learned about the feisty senior’s exploits as a young vet in the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. As old Jacob grapples with his nurses in the home, we catch our breath and prepare for his next high wire act decades earlier in a show that was a lot more dysfunctional than spectacular.

The tale Gruen tells in Water for Elephants is a love story that blossoms behind the unsavory big top of a traveling circus during the Great Depression. Personal tragedy leads Jacob to an unintended job and then to his soul mate, the beautiful Marlena, who is married to a brutal animal trainer named August.

Writers who read this book should pay attention to how seamlessly Gruen weaves her research into Water. In interviews, she says she knew little about the circus until a Chicago Tribune article caught her attention in 2003. Also noteworthy is how well Jacob as a senior who cannot tolerate being locked up in a nursing home matches with Jacob as a headstrong young man. This is the same guy 60 years in either direction.

Try this book. It has a cinematic feel that translated to a pretty good movie. You’ll feel grounded whether in the past or present, and definitely look at elephants a little differently the next time you see one.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane I have had this book in my TBR pile for sooo long, I really should move it up a few books


message 2: by Dixie (new)

Dixie Goode I loved this book, and enjoyed the movie. Good review.


Steve Piacente Thanks, Dixie; I liked the movie as well!


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