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Water for Elephants
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Previous Group Reads > May read: Water for Elephants

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message 1: by Lindsay, Moderator (last edited May 30, 2012 06:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lindsay (ltg584) | 478 comments Mod
Alright, so I hereby begin my discussion experiment!
I'll post a few questions to get us started, but please feel free to answer all or none, add your own thoughts or opinions. I would truly love to hear whatever you have to say!

I browsed around for some discussion questions online, and actually had a hard time picking a few that weren't either entirely lame, or way too in depth. I didn't want anyone feeling like they were back in their high school English class!

These questions came from www.readinggroupguides.com

1. To what extent do the chapters concerning the elderly Jacob enhance the chapters recounting the young Jacob's experiences with the Benzini Brothers circus? In what ways do the chapters about the young Jacob contribute to a deeper understanding of the elderly Jacob's life?

2. In connection with Jacob's formal dinner with August and Marlena in their stateroom, Jacob remarks, "August is gracious, charming, and mischievous" (page 93). To what extent is this an adequate characterization of August? How would you expand upon Jacob's observation? How would you characterize August? Which situations in the novel reveal his true character?

3. After Jacob puts Silver Star down, August talks with him about the reality of the circus. "The whole thing's illusion, Jacob," he says, "and there's nothing wrong with that. It's what people want from us. It's what they expect" (page 104). How does Gruen contrast the worlds of reality and illusion in the novel? Is there anything wrong with pandering to people's need for illusion? Why do we crave the illusions that the circus represents?

4. After Jacob successfully coaches August in Polish commands for Rosie, he observes, "It's only when I catch Rosie actually purring under August's loving ministrations that my conviction starts to crumble. And what I'm left looking at in its place is a terrible thing" (page 229). What is Jacob left "looking at," how does it pertain to August's personality and Jacob's relationship with August, and what makes it a "terrible thing"?

5. At the end of the novel, Jacob exclaims, "So what if I'm ninety-three? . . . why the hell shouldn't I run away with the circus?" (page 331). What would you project to be the elderly Jacob's experiences after he runs away with the circus the second time? How does his decision reflect what we have learned about his early years?


message 2: by Lindsay, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lindsay (ltg584) | 478 comments Mod
I guess I might as well start talking a little about the book... hopefully get some sort of a discussion going?
I read this book last year, so it's not the freshest in my mind, but I'll do my best.
1. Have you ever looked at someone in their 80s or 90s and wondered about what kind of life they have lived? I feel that the whole story of Jacob wouldn't have been complete without telling both the story of his youth, as well as his older age. Hearing about his circus days, you can very easily understand his decision to run back to them, perhaps trying to relive them.
2. August is certainly charming and gracious... when he needs to be. It isn't until he drowns his charm in a bottle that shows his true nature.
3. For Jacob, the lines of illusion and reality begin to blur as he ages. The nursing home feels more of an illusion than his own memories.
I don't think there's anything wrong with a little illusion in one's life. As long as you know what you're buying. August didn't just sell illusion to the circus patrons though. He also tried to fool those around him into believing he was something else.
4. Let me know if I'm way off base with this one...
Jacob sees a connection between August's treatment of Rosie, and the way he treats Marlena. August is only kind and nice when Rosie/Marlena does as he wants them to, and his praise is all too sweet. I'm afraid I don't have the book in front of my anymore, to be able to confirm what "conviction" of Jacob's is crumbling. Anyone want to help me out with this one?
5. I complete understand Jacob's choice, and respect it fully. In his place, I would probably make the same decision. The part that makes me sad, is that his experience with the circus a second time will most likely not make him happy. There is no more Marlena, no more Rosie, and he is no longer able to live the life he once had.
...But it is more of a life than he had in the senior's home.


Amber | 25 comments #1) I love talking with 'my elders' about their life experiences. It amazes me how much they have seen in their lifetime, and how much things have changed. I love how we see Jacob's story from his past, and how his life story is told. We all have a period in our lives that changed us and shaped us into the people we are. Once event that sticks out is Jacobs argument with the other old man in the cafeteria. Jacob is livid with the guy for painting himself as a circus man when Jacob knows he's a faker. At first I thought this is just an old guy being grumpy, but when we flash back to Jacob's past I learned more. Jacob is a man who believes in certain basic principles of life. He believes a person should be honest. And it's good to know his values haven't changed with age.

#2) August is what I call the 'salesman' personality. Charming when he needs to be but behind the curtain he's a snake. You see it when he tricks Jacob into feeding the lion. August knows Jacob could be hurt by the lion, but he also knows that he can play it off as 'all fun and games'. He manipulates the situation to suit his needs and tries to cast himself as the good guy.

#3) There is a line between reality and fiction. Circus' need to blur the line. We all need escape from the everyday for some it's books or tv or the circus. We want to believe in magic. I like how the author shows the harsh truth of life verses fantasy through the disillusionment of Jacob. Like when Jacob learns that the men that have been disappearing from the train aren't leaving of their own free will, but are being thrown off.

#4) I agree with Lindsay in that Jacob sees the Rosie/Marlena dynamic. Jacob realized the he just delivered Rosie into the hands of the devil so to speak. As Rosie does things right for August he coos over her, just like with Marlena. But Jacob knows that August's love is fickle, not conditional and the second Rosie messes up August is going to hurt her, and Jacob knows it'll hurt all the more because Rosie is know growing to like August.

#5) When his parents died he felt adrift with no home or future. Now he is dying and he feels alone, especially since Marlena is gone and his kids don't visit. So he's running again, to find something to fill up the loneliness.


message 4: by Lindsay, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lindsay (ltg584) | 478 comments Mod
First off, Amber, thank you so much for taking the time to add your thoughts! I may have actually giggled gleefully when I saw that someone had actually answered me!! :)
Second, I really liked your point of Jacob's disillusionment about the people being thrown off the train. Great thought!


Amber | 25 comments I was just happy to see questions to answer. I love book discussion, I can just never to seem to get to a live one, so it was nice to be able to be a part of this one. And to have it be about a book I enjoyed so much.


message 6: by Lindsay, Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lindsay (ltg584) | 478 comments Mod
I usually really enjoy book discussions too... until they get really heated, and I find myself buttoning up my yap so I don't step on anyone else's opinions. ;)


Amber | 25 comments Anyone who throws their opinions out there should accept the risk of getting them either validated or squashed on... that's what makes sharing ideas so fun! ;-)


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