Water for Elephants
Jacob Jankowski is finishing his veterinarian's degree at Cornell when he learn his parents have died in an accident. When he goes home for the funeral he learns his parents had nothing left and what property remains has been mortgaged and is being reclaimed by the bank. They had lost all their saved money when their bank crashed, so mortgaged their home so he could finish college. It is 1931 and no one has been able to pay them for his father's work. Now he is alone. Instead of taking his final exams, Jacob hops a train in despair. And finds himself the new veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.
Jacob quickly learns that working for a circus is not glamorous or even necessarily safe, especially when Uncle Al is the owner and ring master or August is the manager of the animals. The first thing is to threaten to throw him off the moving train if a prize horse dies. Then he is almost bitten by a lion. In fact, Jacob's life becomes a series of ups and downs, depending on his successes and failures and the moods of the two most important men in the circus.
When the circus picks up an elephant, Jacob comes into his own. He learns how to deal with Rosie. Soon Jacob teaches August lead Rosie's tricks with Marlena, the star acrobat, horse rider, and August's wife. Jacob discovers he also is attracted to Marlena, but knows that if he wants to keep his job, he has to stay away from her. But as I said, working for a circus isn't always safe. It's often not the menagerie animals that are unsafe, but rather the humans in charge of them...
Sara Gruen put a lot of research into circuses in the 1930's to write Water for Elephants. What has resulted is a sharp, enjoyable, charming tale. It's not sugar coated but written with a light touch through Jacob's memories 70 years later. When a circus sets up next to Jacob's nursing home, he remembers that fateful summer while waiting for his family to come take him to the circus. The book jumps seamlessly between the two time periods, making it feel even more real. In the present we see a picture of the treatment of an elderly man with all his wits but loss of strength. In the past we see the picture of a young man adjusting to his adult life and the realities he never had to face before.
This novel can be read just for enjoyment - and it will provide plenty. Or, like me, you can read it for a book club discussion. There a number of layers in this book that gives the reader plenty to consider. Either way, the reader is the winner.
Notice: Suggestive dialogue or situations
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These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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