Sara Gruen has written quite a lovely story called Water For Elephants. Set in the Great Depression, this novel tells the plight of a young man’s life after his parents die in a horrific car accident. Jacob Jankowski has almost completed his college degree at Veterinarian School, and while he is desolate and depressed, he meets up with the Benzini Brothers circus. Water For Elephants is a beautiful account of memories, as Jacob begins his story as an old man looking back at his days in the circus.
Jacob is frustrated with everything at the senior assisted living home. He is tired of nurses and doctors telling him what to do and what not to do. He hates the food and he’s frustrated because he feels he’s being treated as a kid. However, he is a bit excited because his relatives (he can’t really remember their names) are coming to pick him up so that he can see the circus.
We reminisce with Jacob to the days where he was the circus’ veterinarian, and he was in love with the wonderful Marlena. He was picked up by the traveling show and when the show’s owner found out he was a vet, he wanted Jacob to stay. Jacob tells us of his roommates (a midget and his little dog), and all of his friends that he worked with. The most important person in Jacob’s life, though, was Marlena.
Marlena was married to one of the show’s managers named August. Although August seemed like a very nice, kind fellow, he was actually horribly mean. He beat the animals, especially the show’s elephant, almost to death. He was rude and harsh and he had gigantic mood swings. When he started to beat Marlena, Jacob had had enough with August. Jacob was ready to take Marlena away from August for good, and Marlena was ready to go. They had fallen in love, despite Jacob’s better intuition.
The story is very interesting as it gives the reader a first-hand look at the day to day life of circus people. All of the members had to work very hard to make sure that tents were set up and that vendors were ready, and they had to do everything at record pace. It seems as though many people around the United States were sinking into Depression, however the circus went on and made enough money to feed hungry men, women and animals. There are little black and white photos at the beginning of every chapter depicting a shot of an act in the circus in the 1930’s and they help the reader visualize what is happening in the story.
The love affair between Marlena and Jacob was heart wrenching and desperate. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, forbidden romance. The love he felt for her was so pure, and worth fighting for. She was the perfect, innocent little woman and he was her protector, so it seemed. However in reality, people aren’t always who you think they are. Water For Elephants shows that you can be whomever you want, but what counts is what you’re truly capable of.
The pacing in Water For Elephants is very rhythmic and almost perfect. As the reader goes back and forth from the present to the past, we see Jacob in a different light and get a real feel for his love of the circus and for his dedication to Marlena. We feel what he feels in his heart and that is what makes Water For Elephants a very beautiful read. Sara Gruen is a wonderful author and she makes even the mundane daily rituals of the circus seem vibrant and interesting. She leads us into the heart of a community and makes us care about the characters and even the animals. We become all tangled up with empathy and hope for everyone, and this read proves masterful and delightful. I would recommend Water For Elephants to anyone.
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