Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants had me from the first page clear through the last page...I couldn't put the book down! It's got everything: adventure, romance, dedication, love, terrible fights, incredible relationships with people and animals, pathos, danger, excitement, tenderness, murder, anger, devestating illness, empathy and more. We are transported seamlessly back and forth between a modern day nursing home and a rag tag traveling circus of the 1930's. Ms. Gruen's unique talent as a story teller makes the constant switching from now-to-then-and-back-to-now totally believeable and easy to follow.
Jacob Jankowski is a widower residing in a nursing home who says of himself: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other .....Sometimes you forget what day it is. And finally you forget the year. Actually, it's not so much that I've forgotten. It's more like I've stopped keeping track. ...I catch sight of my hands. They are knobby and crooked, thin-skinned, and -- like my ruined fact -- covered with liver spots. My face....(I) open my vanity mirror. I should know better by now, but somehow I still expect to see myself. Instead, I find an Appalachian apple doll, withered and spotty, with dwlaps and bags and long floppy ears.....When did I stop being me?"
Jacob's not a happy camper in the nursing home. He knows he needs to be there and he knows his children love him and come to visit him, often. He knows. He knows. But that doesn't mean he likes the arrangement. He can be feisty with the staff and sometimes uncooperative. He means to be nicer and even thinks about wrapping a piece of his napkin around his finger to remind himself of that - since he doesn't have any string. You can't help yourself, you really come to like and be genuinely interested in this witty, crusty old guy. The residents are excited that the circus is coming to town. Jacob spent years with a circus over 60 years ago and the memories of those early years come flooding back to his still-sharp mind.
He never intended to join a circus. He was a senior student studying to be a veternarian and planning to join his father's practice. His parents are tragically killed in an auto accident, and the bank forecloses on their house (mortgaged to the hilt to pay for their only son's education) including all its contents. It's the beginning of the Great Depression, Jacob's father has been accepting eggs and vegetables as payment for his services....there's no money, no house, no parents. Completely disheartened and alone, Jacob is in no shape to sit for his final exams and ends up walking out of the classroom after handing his blank test in to his startled professor. He walks out and keeps on walking. Miles and miles. He sees a train. He sees hobos. The next train that comes along - he hops into an open box car.
Welcome to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth! Even though he hasn't officially completed the requirements to be a 'real' vet, he's doctor enough for Uncle Al, the owner of the circus and is hired. We get to meet Camel, Walter (aka Kinko), Marlena, August and various other circus folk .... performers as well as roustabouts. It's a fascinating world of illusion, joy, hate, cruelty, friendships and fights .... that will change the way you look at circuses forever. The animals are major players in the book and some have characters that are developed so artfully by the author that you'll really care about them. Especially the wonderful elephant, Rosie. You'll have a whole new respect and admiration and, yes, even love for elephants by the time you finish this book.
There are twists and turns and unexpected scenarios woven throughout the 331 pages of Water for Elephants, It will have you laughing out loud, crying real tears and will keep you absorbed and spellbound. Plan on losing sleep...unless you're a very fast reader and start the book early in the morning!!
EDITED TO ADD: I fell so in love with wonderful Rosie, that I started researching elephants. I just posted the following on the comment page & copied it here in the hope that all of you who loved the book will enjoy this site as much as our family does! Here's the info:
I found a wonderful site you might like to visit. It's the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Be sure to look at the EleCam for live pictures of different parts of the huge sanctuary. Once in a while you'll see the elephants enjoying their freedom. If no picture appears in the black box on the site - click on 'click here' & it will open full screen, wait for it to 'buffer', and the picture will appear. It's awesome to see. My daughters have read the book and they're both EleCam watchers now, too.
Here's the site: http://www.tappedintoelephants.com/asp/index.php
(you'll have to copy & paste in your browser - I don't know how to make it a clickable link on here)
ps: I just went there & there are 3 elephants in view right now. Warning: EleCam watching can become addictive! LOL
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