Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Book Review)

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Book Review)Water 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.  It was time to finally get to it.  I read the book in two days and watched the movie the next night.  The verdict?  I loved the book but hated the movie.  Isn’t it often that way though?  So disappointing!

I used to live in SW Florida just outside of Sarasota which is the home of the famed Ringling Mansion and Museum (yes, Ringling from the Ringling Bros Circus) and I’ve visited there a ton of times.  Water for Elephants referenced Ringling throughout the book so that was a cool connection for me.  My visits to that museum really helped bring this book to life because I could see the circus of that era so vividly.

Water for Elephants is a magical book.

Gruen has this incredible way of alternating back and forth between the magic of the public circus and the dark seedy underbelly of the backstage reality.  While the crowd is watching hilarious clown shows, acrobats, and animal shows behind the scenes employees aren’t being paid, they are being thrown from moving trains, there is ugly and harsh treatment of both employees and animals which was just grotesque.

More Love:   The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (Book Review)

Then…there was the love story!  Jacob and Marlena were just 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 was a complete disappointment compared to the book.  Honestly, despite liking both Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon I wouldn’t recommend it.  Alone maybe it was ok but once you’ve read the book you realize just how much the movie left out.

I’m so glad I finally got it off my shelf and read it. 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. 


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