Sunday, July 18, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Author: Sara Gruen
Publish Date: April 9,2006
ISBN: 9781565125605
List Price: $13.95
My Rating: 3 out of 5

A cute story of the life of Jacob Jankowski. A very vivid story about the trials of Jacob's life as a unplanned circus vet during the 1930's depression era. It begins with him as an old man, 93 to be exact, and how he is worried that he is losing touch with reality and becoming one of those senile folks he sees in his assisted living home. Jacob is sharp as a tack though and completely aware of what he still wants out of life. Each chapter bounces him from the present, age 93, to his youth at 23...where we begin his life story at college and the terrible events that catapult him to a rocky adventure with a circus at the beginning of the depression era. 

In the beginning, we learn that Jacob has lost his parents to a terrible car accident and left him penniless as the depression begins to unfold over America. Jacob leaves college and wonders aimlessly until he happens upon a moving circus train that provides an escape from loneliness and loss. Jacob joins the circus because he has no where else to go. 

Jacob meets Marlena and August after he has stowed away on the circus train of the Benzini Brother's Circus. Marlena is the star of the show with her equestrian act and August is a circus boss. She has a natural talent of speaking to the animals and the charisma of an angel. Jacob falls for Marlena even though she married a man, August, to escape her family to a new life on her own terms, or so she thought. August isn't what he appears and is a feared character in this story. August has violent tendencies toward people and animals. He can't be trusted. 

The circus is a third rate circus which doesn't bode well for anyone. "Red lighting" (being thrown from a speeding train) occurs often to keep the circus "profitable" and paychecks are usually hard to come by. As they struggle to keep the circus together, they happen upon an elephant, by the name of Rosie, who needs employment. It's soon believed that Rosie has no talent and was a worthless purchase, but Jacob observes that Rosie is trained ... in Polish which may lead to an amazing act. However, tragically Marlena is injured and we endure the wrath of August as he shows his anger towards Rosie. 

I thought the story was entertaining, had a great twist in the plot, and an unexpected ending. The author's able to paint a pretty vivid picture of this "menagerie," but in the end I felt the love story could have been better established. I just didn't feel the strong love connection between the characters that I expected. It just didn't tug at the heart-strings. They are currently bringing this book to the big screen, so it will be interesting to see how it translates to the movie screen.

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