Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title:  Water for Elephants

Author:  Sara Gruen

Paperback:  335 pages

ISBN:  9781565125605

…[Camel] comes to a stop in front of a stock car.  “Joe!  Hey, Joe!”

A head appears in the doorway.

“I got a First of May here.  Fresh from the crate.  Think you can use him?”

The figure steps forward onto the ramp.  He pushes up the brim of a battered hat with a hand missing three of its fingers.  He scrutinizes me, shoots an oyster of dark brown tobacco juice out the side of his mouth, and goes back inside.

Camel pats my arm in a congratulatory fashion.  “You’re in, kid.”

“I am?”

“Yep.  Now go shovel some shit.  I’ll catch up with you later.”

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, page 33

Jacob Jankowski was one week and his final exams away from being a vet.  Then tragedy hits, claiming the lives of his parents, and revealing that they’d mortgaged everything to keep their only child enrolled in Cornell University.  The weight and guilt of this bears down on young Jacob, and he just walks off from school… and keeps on walking.  When he finally stops for the night, he decides to jump aboard a passing train, only to find he’s just joined the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. 

Vividly imaginitive and well-researched, Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruenis a compelling, character-driven tale with the feel of magic and wonder we feel as children going to the circus for the first time.  It has a gritty realism to it and exposes the behind-the-scenes working and stratification of classes of the travelling circus.  Bosses, freaks, an exotic menagerie, performers, clowns and dwarfs, working men and roustabouts… in that order.  Everyone has a history, and a pervasive loneliness binds them all together.

I was enrapt by both the writing and the story in Water for Elephants.  Gruen, a female writer, captures the male perspective amazingly well.  The story takes place in two timelines:  Young Jacob at 23 and joining the circus, and the elderly Jacob, who is either 91 or 93 (he can’t remember anymore), in an assisted living facility, dealing with the emotions of being left behind -by his kids and his deceased wife- in a place where there’s baby food to eat, your neighbor poops his pants, and your desires and opinions are discounted and ignored.  I was carried along through the story, and it was over before I even knew it.

I loved Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen and give it 5 out of 5 stars 🙂


Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages!  Presenting a video clip of Ringling Brothers Greatest Show on Earth!



14 Responses

  1. Holy cow! I’ve got to read that book. It sounds fabulous.

  2. I loved this book too. It was really different and enjoyed reading about the travelling circus. And I really liked the end, so apt.

    Thanks for the video 🙂

    • I definitely agree. AND, btw… the copy of the book I have has an interview with Gruen in the back, and she said that actually happened to one particular ringmaster. She took a bit of historical annecdotes and incorporated them into the story, giving it a “fantastic but true” feel to it.

  3. I loved it! We read it for book club and I too was impressed with the great detail in the book regarding the circus. Thanks for the review! 🙂

    I just posted yesterday that I have a new copy of this book available on my Freebie Friday post.

    • Thank you, sdechantal, for letting us know of your giveaway for a copy of this book 🙂 Fun and serendipitious how I reviewed the book at the same time you’re giving a copy away 😉

  4. This was such a great book. The circus felt like a different setting for historical fiction and I loved living behind the scenes for a while. Great review!

  5. This is on my list of books to read this year. I’ve heard such great things about it, not to mention it sounds so interesting. Thanks for your wonderful review. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  6. This sounds like a fantastic book. I have heard great things about it.

    Glad you enjoyed it so much its always nice to find a book that just sweeps you away.

  7. Absolutely loved this one!

  8. I loved Water for Elephants. I especially thought the ending was wonderful. Great review.

  9. I also loved this book! It has stuck with me.

  10. I read this book a few years ago and also really enjoyed it!!

  11. nice site thank you

  12. […] Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen ~ This book was vivid and well-researched, and it made me feel the magic of going to a circus as a […]

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