Friday, June 12, 2015

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen Book Review

  Water for Elephants
Author:  Sara Gruen
Publisher:  Algonquin Books
Release Date:  April 9, 2007
Pages:  350

About the Book

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.
Jacob was there because his luck had run out—orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act—in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. 
Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.

My Review

It isn't uncommon for me to read a bestseller well after it was released. This book has been on my bookshelf for quite some time and for some reason I kept putting off reading it. I hate it when I hear so much praise for a book because I get nervous that it won't live up to it. I'm sorry to say, that is how I felt about Water for Elephants.
It all started with Jacob up and leaving his final exams in order to become a vet. I do understand that tragedy changes people, but when he realizes how much his parents gave up in order for him to go to school there, it seemed weird that he would throw that all away to join a circus...not the most lucrative choice.
August, Marlena and Uncle Al. Where do I even start? Well, let me begin with August (there are some spoilers here, so if you don't want to know don't read on, lol). I can't believe that a circus owner (Uncle Al) would continue to not only employ someone, but have them in a position of such power when he knew he was a paranoid schizophrenic. Especially when he had seen the rage take over. This is a business and I don't care how good he was at his job, when he was bad, he was true evil. His abuse of the animals and people throughout the book didn't sit well with me at all. I'm not saying that the character wasn't written well, I just didn't buy that the owner would allow it to continue. 
And what kind of owner was he? Well, a downright awful and malicious man himself. Not paying workers but making sure that the performers got paid (well, at least most of the time), tossing people from moving trains, taking advantage of people when they were the lowest they could be. You might think that explains why he kept August on, but he was greedy and it was all about money - to me August was just too much of a risk.
And Marlena. Jacob is fascinated by her from their first meeting. As they spend more time together you are led to believe that they are in love. Again, I struggled a little with this. I think that Marlena was comparing Jacob to August and seeing a good man who would treat her well. And I think that Jacob was infatuated with her, and because he was a virgin it made it all the more special when she took his virginity, especially considering the circumstance surrounding it.
My favorite part of the book was 'old' Jacob - telling his tale from the nursing home. I do think that the author is extremely talented, and love the fact that this surrounded circus life - not something you see in a book very often. I live a few hours from Baraboo, WI and have actually been to the Circus World Museum, home to Ringling Bros. I would say to give it a shot and see what you think.
3 stars

About the Author

Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Water for Elephants, Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages, and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide.

Water for Elephants was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz in 2011.

She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and three sons, along with their dogs, cats, horses, birds, and the world’s fussiest goat.

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