Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Water for Elephants"

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, is the story of Jacob, a young veterinary student who's about to complete his degree and join his father's rural practice when his parents are killed in a car accident. It's 1931; hard times have taken everything his family had, and Jacob is left with nothing. In grief and desperation, he jumps on a moving train. Turns out it's a circus train -- fortunately for Jacob, this circus could use a vet. Unfortunately, it's a second-rate circus run by truly cruel people, and he has to watch his back as well as the animals. Needless to say, he grows up fast.

Jacob tells his story in flashback. He is ninety, now, or ninety-three; he doesn't really know. He's in a nursing home and beginning not to recognize his children and grandchildren. The circus comes to town, and triggers memories that seem more real than the face he sees in the mirror.

This is a really good yarn, and an absorbing, fast read. It's also well-researched. Gruen truly evokes the life of a Depression-era circus behind Jacob's touching story; her characters are vivid and real.

Some in our reading group thought that the ending was overly fanciful; I can see this criticism, but forgave it. Part of the novel's charm, I thought.

Highly recommended!

How 'bout you, read anything good lately?


  1. i just recently killed my TV brought it down to 5.99 a month, kept jut the upper public interest stations ie. Free speech TV and Link as well university channels and the local ones..more money for books perhaps..yay or fuel to drive to the library. I started a book today - while listening to classical music..lovely way to live. Reading. Studying.

    Last great Novel i read was Shadow of the Wind by Ruiz ? bad me forgetting his name..it was originally written in spanish - fantastic mystery..great imagery.

  2. I loved Water for Elephants. It was one of those books that life sent me - I kept running into people reading it or reviews for it or what-not.

    My blogging about it is here: http://scenicroot.blogspot.com/2007/07/water-for-elephants-sara-gruen.html

    Zippy was less enamored, I think the "happily ever after" ending and the plot device of the flashback was over the top for him - he likes his plot dark and straight up.

  3. I just read your post, Jude. "John Irving lite" -- that's exactly it.

  4. I recently read The Unfortunates by Laurie Graham, which I liked. I loved The Future Homemakers of America by her too.

  5. I just finished The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. Historical fiction, bit of a bodice ripper, but still, really, really good.

    I'm currently reading The Ten Year Nap and will be reviewing it online. So far, it's excellent.