Recent Read: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Monday, February 23, 2009

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago when we were on our way to Vegas, but haven't taken the time to sit down and write about it until now.

But this book--what a delightful read! I loved it.

Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a retired veterinarian who is 90+ years old, lonely, and living in a nursing home. When a circus comes to town, Jacob begins to reminisce about the time he spent working for a circus during The Great Depression.

Right before graduating from veterinary school at Cornell University, Jacob experiences a horrible family tragedy. His way of coping with his pain is to run away from it. He randomly hops a train and finds himself in the middle of the train-traveling Benzini Brothers Circus.

And so begins Jacob's adventures--with the circus, exotic animals, and the people. He finds unexpected friendships, and even love.

In the book, the reader is taken back and forth between Jacob's action-packed past with the circus, and his present, where he is frustrated that his aging body and brain are beginning to fail him. We live what he lives and feel what he feels, whether it is the awe with which he regards the circus animals, or the pain he experiences at the nursing home, having been left behind by his wife, who passed away, and his children, who have all gone on living their own lives.

The author does a wonderful job at setting this story in the middle of a Depression-era circus. So much of what makes this book great is in the details, which were apparently really well researched by Gruen. Many parts of the story are actually based on things she read and heard about the circus while preparing to write the book.

Water for Elephants is an exciting and fun novel that kept me turning the pages. It has become one of my favorites and I think it would be enjoyed by just about everyone. If you haven't read it, definitely put this on your "must read" lists!

And, as always, if you have read it... let's discuss in the comments!


S February 25, 2009 at 7:44 AM  

I read this a while back and LOVED it. It's on my "must read again" list.

Vanessa February 25, 2009 at 8:20 AM  

You have such a great way of describing books concisely yet evocatively and this is one I really want to read! How fun would it be to start a virtual book club?!!

Sarah February 25, 2009 at 9:59 AM  

I just started reading this over the weekend, and it's great so far! I finished Kite Runner last week - which was an EXCELLENT book.

ktmac32 February 25, 2009 at 12:38 PM  

I read this book last year and I really liked it. I also think the author did a wonderful job with being historically accurate and researching the depression era circus. I also just finished The Time Traveler's Wife, which I decided to read after you had blogged about it a little while ago.

Megan February 25, 2009 at 12:55 PM  

I loved it too. Read it in about 3 days while I was in Rome. I've been to Poland many times and studied the language so having some of that in there was fun for me.

my life as a wife February 25, 2009 at 4:19 PM  

I am about halfway through this book and I love it so far. I'm happy to see lots of positive reviews on it.

Heather February 25, 2009 at 4:26 PM  

Vanessa--If we had enough people interested, a "book club" could be fun.

Sarah--I am reading Kite Runner right now! Seems like we are on the same wavelength with books, just at opposite times. :) I am almost done with Kite Runner and will be posting about it soon.

Did everyone read the interview/Q&A with Sara Gruen that appeared in the end of Water for Elephants? I *loved* that, and wish more books had such a feature. It was neat to hear her perspective on the story after finishing it.

Anonymous,  February 25, 2009 at 6:53 PM  

After you finish Kite Runner, read A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is the same auther, and I think even better than Kit Runner

Lindsey February 27, 2009 at 9:31 AM  

I read this book about a year and a half or so ago for my book club, and I absolutely loved it! Definitely one to keep and read again and again.

Do you happen to belong to or know about good reads? If not, check it out, it's a fabulous "networking" site that you can become friends with people and rate books you have read and so on. It's great!

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