So this weekend I finished reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time – among all the others that I bought probably because of a recommendation, and with the best of intentions. I have heard from a few of my friends that have read it recently, and all have had nothing but good things to say about it. Finally, after reading the selection my book club had chosen for the month, I wasn’t sure what I was going to read next. So I picked this up, determined to give it a try.
I don’t know what kept me from reading it in the past. Maybe it was the name, I just didn’t think that this was going to be something that would interest me.
Boy, was I wrong.
From the first few paragraphs, I was hooked, and I didn’t even know why. I think the style of writing and the easy, likeable voice of the narrator, Jacob, drew me in. From then on, I picked it up every chance I got, and finished it within a few days.
The bulk of this story takes place around the early part of the Great Depression, though it is told through the memories of Jacob, a ninety (or ninety-three) year old man who is living out the remainder of his life in a nursing home. He is a widower, with several children and grandchildren that come to see him to fufill their obligation, though they all have busy lives. He bounces back and forth between anger, sadness and confusion, all the while telling this story of the few months that he spent in the summer of 1931 travelling with a circus.
He was a student at Cornell, training to be a veternarian like his father, when a huge turn of events changes his life forever. Basically to escape the pain of reality, he ends up jumping a train in the night (he has no idea while he’s jumping that it’s a circus train) and leaves everything behind.
Through meeting new friends, he is awarded a place with the show, and once his area of study is discovered, he is “hired” on as the vet. I put “hired” in quotations because I don’t believe that he is ever actually paid for any of his services. The story goes on to tell how Jacob falls in love with one of the performers, Marlena, who is married to the Equestrian Director, who just happens to be a complete psycho. It paints a good picture of these desperate times, where men and women would subject themselves to this horrible lifestyle that was not guaranteed – at any minute one could be “red-lighted” – basically thrown off the train, for a number of different reasons – just because there was nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. They figured they were better off there than starving to death at home. If there was even a home to go back to.
Jacob becomes close with all the animals, particularly Rosie, an elephant that was aquired by the circus upon the crumble of another circus. Rosie was said to be as dumb as a stump, but Jacob connects with her, and the description of her huge amber eyes and smile truly gives her a personality and she quickly becomes a central character to the story.
Due to the first few pages of the book, you can see where the story is going, though there is a bit of a twist thrown in at the end that I for one didn’t see coming. I was captivated by the telling of Jacob’s story, as well as the parts where his is in present day, struggling to come to terms with aging. Perhaps it’s because my husband works with the elderly on a daily basis, this part of the story really interested me.
Anyway – Overall – Loved this book! Gave it 5/5 stars and would highly recommend to anyone.
If you have any comments – Read this, plan on reading it? Loved it, hated it? Please comment or e-mail me at culinarygoddessblog at gmail dot com. I’d love to hear from you and discuss this piece of fiction!