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Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob's life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the "menagerie" and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed, bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and... he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August's wife. Not his best idea.
The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena's and Rosie's pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it--and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely. --Valerie Ryan
The book was an excellent read. It was very well written and gave you a good picture of life in the circus in the l930's.Published 6 hours ago by atrebor
Well researched but brutal in some parts, this depicts circus life as, I hope, it used to be. Possibly not for your grandmother and definitely not for the feint of heart, this... Read morePublished 11 hours ago by Amazon Customer
Read it on my new Kindle on an international flight. Was great entertainment and loved using the Kindle! Read morePublished 1 day ago by Jennifer P. Wissink
This book really grabs the reader from the beginning. There are so many emotions surfacing at any given time. Beautifully written and historically entertaining.Published 1 day ago by Agatha M. Miller
Nostalgia set in as I read this story. I spent many days watching the old time circus tent being set up when the Ringling Brothers came to town. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Linda H.
I finished it in 4 days. Such a lovely story of love and aging. I have two kids and was surprised at how often I snuck away to read this.Published 2 days ago by TRod
This was my least favorite of Riding Lessons, Flying Changes and Ape House. Sara Gruen has a way of writing about relationships between humans and animals. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Patricia Myers
I absolutely loved this book. It was so well written and I was easily able to connect to the characters. I was gripping my seat the whole time I was reading this. Read morePublished 4 days ago by CmakAttak
Awesome book, held my interest and was well written would recommend it to every one that loves a good storyPublished 4 days ago by Jennifer E. Behrens