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Water for Elephants: A Novel Paperback – May 1, 2007
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“Vibrant . . . gritty, sensual, and charged with dark secrets involving love, murder, and a majestic, mute heroine (Rosie the Elephant).”—Parade
“Novelist Gruen unearths a lost world with her rich and surprising portrayal of life in a traveling circus in the '30s. An emotional tale that will please history buffs--and others.”—People
“[This] sprightly tale has a ringmaster's crowd-pleasing pace.”—Entertainment Weekly
“A compulsive page-turner . . . a fascinating setting and a richly anecdotal story that's enjoyable right up to the final, inevitable revelation.”—The Onion
“A rich surprise, a delightful gem springing from a fascinating footnote to history that absolutely deserved to be mined.”—Denver Post
“One of the many pleasures of this novel is the opportunity to enter a bizarrely coded and private world with its own laws, superstitions and vocabulary. . . . I couldn't bear to be torn away from it for a single minute.”—Chicago Tribune
“You'll get lost in the tatty glamour of Gruen's meticulously researched world, from spangled equestrian pageantry and the sleazy side show to an ill-fated night at a Chicago speak-easy.”—Washington Post
"Riveting." —The Toronto Globe and Mail
“Life is good for Jacob Jankowski. He’s about to graduate from veterinary school and about to bed the girl of his dreams. Then his parents are killed in a car crash, leaving him in the middle of the Great Depression with no home, no family, and no career…This lushly romantic novel travels back in forth in time between Jacob’s present day in a nursing home and his adventures in the surprisingly harsh world of 1930s circuses…just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convinces you to suspend your disbelief.”—Booklist
“Old-fashioned and endearing, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story.”—Library Journal
"Lovely and mesmerizing...genuine talent."—Kirkus Reviews
A "page-turner...Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book."—Publishers Weekly
“In this thrilling, romantic story set in a traveling circus in the 1930s, Sara Gruen has a Big Top’s worth of vivid characters and an exhilarating narrative that kept me up all night. From the perseverance of a terrier named Queenie, to the charm of Rosie the elephant, this masterpiece of storytelling is a book about what animals can teach people about love.” —Susan Cheever, author of My Name Is Bill
"The circus, the Great Depression, a complex elephant, equally complex love, the mists and twists of memory articulated in the utterly winning voice of a very old man who's seen it all—these are the irresistible elements of Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen has written an utterly transporting novel richly full of the stuff of life." —Robert Olen Butler
"So much more than a tale about a circus, Water for Elephants is a compelling journey not only under the big top, but into the protagonist's heart. Sara Gruen uses her talent as a writer to bring that world alive for the reader: I could smell it, taste it, feel every word of it. This is a fiction reader's dream come true." —Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo Get Lucky
“Gorgeous, brilliant, and superbly plotted, Water for Elephants swept me into the world of the circus during the Depression and it did not let me go until the very end. I don’t think it has let me go even now. Sara Gruen has a voice to rival John Irving’s, and I am hopelessly, unabashedly in love with this book. Read it.” —Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama
“An entirely original, captivating story of finding love in a down-at-the-heels traveling circus in the Great Depression. Sara Gruen writes with great tenderness and breathtaking drama which makes the novel impossible to put down.” —Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart
From the Inside Flap
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.
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Sara’s research on traveling Circuses during great depression is richly detailed without overtaking the essence of the story or characters. The novel opens with ninety year old Jacob Jankowski ensconced in a dreary nursing home. He’s grumpy and taciturn. The food is bland and the old ladies are to him, a gaggle of hens. More and more, Jacob finds his thoughts turning to the past and the life he once lived long ago as a circus vet. Jacob remarks that he is ninety or ninety-three, but at his age, he is not longer counting. We are drawn into his memories and so the story begins.
When Jacob’s parents are killed in an auto accident, he is forced to leave his last year at Cornell where he’d been studying to become a verternarian. Penniless, he hits the road and hops a train that happens to be the Benzini Brothers traveling circus. He is hired as the show’s vet.
Jacob faces danger on a daily basis, not only because of his growing attraction to Marlena, the beauty who is the star equestrian act of the circus, but because of her husband, August, a ring master who is a bully and quick with a jealous, evil temper. These are hard times and circuses are failing. The boss, Big Al, who decides the life and death of many of the hired hands, desires an elephant, a trained elephant that can bring the rubes (hapless townspeople) into the big tent.
Big Al gets his elephant. Her name is Rosie and she doesn’t seem to understand any directions at all. She’s sweet, but gets into trouble. August, the bad tempered husband of Marlena, cruelly beats Rosie to get her to perform. Jacob finds that Rosie does not understand English. Her former trainer was Polish. Together, Jacob and Marlena strive to protect and save Rosie. August sees their attraction and attempts to get Jacob Red-lighted, which means to be thrown of the moving train at midnight. No spoilers here.
Water for Elephants is a fascinating read, filled with danger, acts of evil, overwhelming kindness, and enduring love.
I highly recommend this wonderful novel.
I can see how making a movie would be difficult since there was so many things going on, including all the animals. Your imagination is probably much better than the film (I've heard the film is not great, so I'll stick with my imagination on this one).
I would totally recommend this book. I'm not a fan of the circus. Mostly because of how cruel they are to the animals, and I think this book shows exactly how it is. I don't think the author glamorized the circus much. There were points in the book that were hard to read since I'm such an animal lover, but I wanted to see how it all ends.
I would even read this book again!
I also thought Marlena's character was well-written. Divorce in the 1920s and 1930s was unheard of, and I can only imagine how awful it must have been for a woman to realize that she had to endure the rest of her life with someone she despised. I found myself wondering when she was going to make the decision to live for herself, rather than do what everyone expected her to do. Then again, she had already made that decision once by leaving her family, so I expected that she would come to the right decision at some point.
As for Gruen's research into circus life during the Depression, I think that she did a fantastic job. America during the Great Depression is such a fascinating piece of history, and when you add the excitement of an all-American circus show to the mix, it becomes ever more so. All in all, Water for Elephants was a great read and I will be sure to recommend it to my family and friends.