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Thursday, July 20, 2006

A book review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I have always loved the circus. Not the clowns, though. When I read reviews about this book it sounded interesting, and I was not disappointed. At all.

It is the story of Jacob Jankowski and two eras of his life. In one, he is a young vet student with only six days until he takes his final exams and is an official animal doctor. In the other he is a ninety or ninety-three year old man (he can't remember which) in an assisted living home. The two mesh into one story that is lovely, frustrating, maddening, sad, and fascinating.

Young Jacob is in school when he is pulled out of class to be told of an accident. He is devestated and jumps a train in the middle of the night only to realize he is on a voyage with a 1930s traveling circus. This is not Ringling Brothers, but a smaller, poorer version with big visions of being just as famous as Ringling.

You have heard the stories of circuses in the 30s; the freaks, accidents, and excitement. This book brings them to life. It doesn't focus on the performers much or the glitz and glamour. The focus is on the regular man trying to make a living in the time of prohibition and depression. These men and women are fighting for their lives and the work they have to do is hard, hot and deadly. Only the strong survive on the trains; show one sign of weakness and you will be "red-lighted". There is a hierarchy even amongst the workers and you don't cross those lines.

The characters you meet within this story are so wonderful. I am crazy for Jacob and his sense of purpose and love for the women in his life. Just like Jacob, I am in love with Rosie the elephant. I adore Walter, Bobo, Camel, and Marlena. These people and animals are so real to me I feel like they are friends. I miss them already.

I can still smell the animal cars, the popcorn, the sweat, the food tent... everything! This book is now number one on my favorites list. I only regret that it had to end. I wanted to hear more of Jacob's stories after leaving this circus; he moves on to bigger and better things. But how he ends his story is wonderful. I smile at the thought of his final days/years. It is right where he needs to be and it makes him happy. Me, too.


Beth said...

Sounds like my kind of novel; I'll have to pick this up. Have you read John Irving's A Son of the Circus? dan and I both loved it.

Marni said...

I haven't even heard of it. I'll have to look for it.