Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Water for Elephants

By Sara Gruen
Published by Algonquin Books, 2006
Water for Elephants is a dark, yet beautifully written novel that takes place during the depression. Through a series of events that start with his parents' deaths, our hero, Jacob Jankowski finds himself working in a circus. Jacob has just completed his training to become a veterinarian but failed to take his finals.  Before long he has fallen in love with an elephant and a trapeze artist. I won't say more about his relationships with either because I don't want to ruin the plot evolvement for you.
The depression of the thirties in the United States is the stage for this novel that is very descriptive of a third-rate circus of the era. From the roadies to the performers, Gruen acquaints us with every detail of the traveling circus and not all of it is pretty.

While Water for Elephants is definitely dark, I did not feel overwhelmed by gloom throughout the book.  There are great scenes, some quite charming.  I don't like dark stories but I did like this book. When it was over, I wasn't sad. Gruen brought life to the characters and color to the circus which was a closed world deeply affected by, but not truly part of the regular world.

I recommend this book for anyone who will take the time to read it. It's great introductory reviews and the fact that the name includes, "Circus," led many readers to expect a good time. Some were disappointed that this wasn't a "fun" book.  It is a great story of a loss, A country that lost its confidence a young man who loses his sense of who he is and a circus that is losing its place in culture. All of the characters are lost in his or her own way, including Rosie the elephant who doesn't seem to know just what is expected of her.

Don't expect "The Greatest Show on Earth," but do expect to be drawn into the tents and wagons of the Benzini Brothers's Circus. Expect to stay and learn about what it actually means to draw "water for elephants."

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