Izetta Autumn's Reviews > Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Jul 12, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: 2020-tome, general-fiction
Read in August, 2007

Somehow I feel that I have to defend why I liked this book, even though there's no one saying why I shouldn't have enjoyed it. Here's what I found most touching: the author took an fantastic premise - an orphan running away to the circus, a love triangle, an elephant, and the Great Depression and weaved a tale that doesn't make you say "bullocks," at every page. Gruen outlines use of anachronistic story telling is effective and she is skilled at moving the story along, even more adept at highlighting an aging man who is recalling his prime. Because Gruen juxtaposes her novel against the Great Depression, careful readers will find an interesting opportunity for retrospection around how we treat elders today and during the depression and where we put our "unwanteds."

The book is fantastical and clearly well researched, with the exception of one character being misdiagnosed as "paranoid schizoprenic." This inaccuracy can be forgiven. Gruen also works hard to show the layers of social dynamics, acknowledging in the book: segregation, racism, ability and others who are "queered out," poverty, capitalism, and elder care. That's a lot to put comfortably in a book - and to Gruen's credit I didn't feel overcrowded. I am most impressed with Gruen's technique; its the details in the craft of her writing that makes the story possible.

My only complaint would be that while most all of the characters are quite believable, the female protagonist, I found to be a little flat. I don't feel that Gruen inhabited her as the writer - she didn't quite come to life for me, I didn't find her realistic or understand her. I also am still thinking through a casual (and perhaps unintended) parallel the author draws between Rosie the elephant and the Black female nurse who Jacob so appreciates. I have to revisit that.

After reading the book I am certainly more interested in reading historic accounts of the circus - definitely an intereting topic; had me yearning for a certain X-Files episode featuring the circus - but I digress... ;-D
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Daria So eloquent and expressed my views exactly.


message 2: by Elissa (new) - added it

Elissa agreeded


message 3: by Nisro (new)

Nisro Your eloquent deep review makes me want to read the book although other reviews seem to discourage me from doing that
Thank you :)


Cristen This review expressed how I felt about this book as well.


Amira True. My only take on it would be Marlena as well. She was quite disappointing! It takes some getting used to.


Denise I like your review. But in defense of a fictional character (lol) I would say the reason Marlena seems so flat is because of her era. Woman of today would not have put up with so much. Families like hers were not open and understanding. She felt like she made the better of two choices of husbands and messed up. She said she made her bed and had to lie in it. She knew August was crazy and had to deal with him because in her reality, he was all she had. As readers we can't see her as the woman she would be today, with a supportive family and loads of opportunities. We have to realize she felt and was actually stuck with her life. She was just pushing through each day.


John R The "paranoid schizophrenic" diagnosis has to be taken in the context. It's maybe how someone like the person who said it would describe the guy in that era.


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