Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara GruenWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Published by Algonquin Books
Pages: 335
My Rating five-stars
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An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932 illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. Winner of the 2007 BookBrowse Award for Most Popular Book.
An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

I recently started reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I’ve had that book since it’s release and the movie for about a year and haven’t read/watched either so it was high time to buckle down and get to it. I wanted to watch the movie but I had heard such great things about the book that I wanted to read it first. It was better than I’d dared to hope and I finished it in two days. We watched the movie the next night. I ended up loving the book and hating the movie. So disappointing!

I lived in SW Florida just outside of Sarasota for most of my life. Sarasota is home of the famed Ringling Mansion and Museum (Ringling from the Ringling Bros Circus) and I’ve visited there dozens of times.  Water for Elephants referenced Ringling throughout the book so that was a cool hometown kind of connection for me. My visits to that museum helped bring the book to life because I could see the circus of that era so vividly thanks to all of my Ringling Museum tours.

Water for Elephants really is a magical book. Gruen has this incredible way of alternating back and forth between the magic of the public circus and the seedy underbelly of the backstage reality. While the crowd is watching hilarious clown shows, acrobats, and animal performances, the behind-the-scenes employees aren’t being paid and thrown from moving trains. There is ugly and harsh treatment of both employees and animals which was just grotesque.

Then, there is the love story!  Jacob and Marlena were beautiful in the book – two lost souls who found each other on the circus train and who found healing and everlasting love together.  Despite the dark ugliness of the circus they found a beautiful joy in each other. The movie romance was a disappointment compared to the book.  Despite liking both Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon I wouldn’t recommend the movie. It may be ok if you haven’t read the book but once you’ve read it you realize how much the movie left out.

If you still have it collecting dust on your shelf or sitting untouched on your Kindle, pick it up and start reading it. It’s a wonderful book and a great escape. I’m sure you’ll love it.


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