Thursday, January 31, 2008

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

My aunt recommended this book to me last spring, I bought it this last summer hoping to read it during the warm months, but just now am getting around to reading it!! It is so funny -- I passed this recommendation on to many others and I think that they got around to reading it way before me!!

Here's a little description of this novel (taken from Amazon) for those that have not heard of it yet . . .

Jacob Jankowski says: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other." At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn't always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn't a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn't write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.

First of all, who would have thought that I would have become so engrossed in a novel about a circus!?! Definitely not me!! However, I did!! I loved this book so much!! You come to love or hate so many of the characters! And, the author actually did a ton of research on the subject of the circus, especially in the time that this one was set -- during the Depression. I don't know if it was due to my hormonal pregnancy at the moment, but I was definitely teary-eyed at the end of the book!

Secondly, I am a complete nerd and read a book from cover to cover typically. Yes, that even means the interviews with the author, the acknowledgements, and the book club questions! As I was reading through the book club questions, two topics in particular really popped out at me and I just have to address them here (at least partially!).

One reviewer used the words "pathetic gradeur of the Depression-era circus" to describe the novel. I thought that this comment was so in-tune with the book. Oftentimes, when you (or at least me!) think of the circus, you do think of the gradeur of it . . . the big top, the enormous animals, the amazing performers, etc. However, especially during the time of the Depression, it really was pathetic. People did what they had to do to survive. The behind-the-scenes look of the circus, particularly one that was not on the same level as the Ringling Brothers, was definitely an eye-opener! There are scenes described in the book that are of a very sexual manner, but I really do believe that this was what that particular world was like! Though some portions of books can really do without the sexual content to get at a story, this one really helped you to get a better feel for the whole time period and situation that these people were in. The Depression was tough for many people, but as part of the circus world, it was even more so . . . seriously, the redlighting still astounds me!

There was also a comment made by Jacob Jankowski (page 110) . . . "My real stories are all out of date. So what if I can speak firsthand about the Spanish flu, the advent of the automobile, world wars, cold wars, guerrilla wars, and Sputnik -- that's all ancient history now. But what else do I have to offer?" Jacob's own family was tired of his stories and no longer really appreciated what Jacob was telling him! But, seriously, everyone's story is important! You can not only learn so much from the people that came before us as well as so much about the people we meet in our everyday lives. Not one person's life story should be discarded. We should appreciate them instead. So, why are the elderly's stories often discounted or discarded? Afterall, they have more stories that we can personally learn from! I just remember the stories that my great grandmother used to tell me -- about the things that had the greatest impact on her life. Though she was a young adult during the Depression, it was not this event we hear so much about that had such a large impact on her life. Rather, it was the signing of the Armistice and the fact that her Kindergarten teacher would not let her go to the bathroom when she really had to go! I will never forget when she told me the lesson learned from the latter . . . "When you gotta go, you gotta go! Just don't ask!" :) A woman with this much spunk at the age of 90, barely standing 5 feet tall . . . I think, she's obviously done something right to get this far and still have this much spunk. I hope that when I am that age, that I am just like her -- and, that the little things in life taught me just as much as the larger ones!

Anyways, moving back to the book!! Loved it, learned from it, got a better understanding of a world completely different from my own! Highly recommend it!

Additional Reviews:


  1. Couldn't agree more! Great book, well-researched, captivating!

  2. I have been wanting to read this one and now you make me want to even more!

  3. I didn't know you were expecting. Congratulations!!

  4. There was a Vaudeville-esque feeling to the circus in this book, except it wasn't even that grand! And the research the author did for this book was amazing.

  5. Completely agree!! By the way, when I get the chance, I will add the link to your review on mine here!


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