Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Book #6. "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen, 52 Books in 52 Weeks
Water for Elephants is a novel set in the 1930's and present day about an elderly man named Jacob Jankowski. He doesn't remember how old he really is....90 or 93, he's slightly bitter about it as he recounts how he has forgotten. While living in a nursing home, Jacob and some of the elderly women at the nursing home are looking out the window and they tell him that the circus is in town. This triggers Jacob's memories of working and living in a circus. He starts to recount his years spent in a circus called, The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show. The story is narrated by Jacob, alternating from past to present day through flashbacks.
Jacob's story begins with him recounting how he was set to be a veterinarian, but quit school just shy of finishing when his parents died in a car accident. Jacob is devastated and doesn't feel the desire to finish. Jacob has nowhere to go after losing his home, so he hops a train that takes the circus from town to town. As Jacob waits for the nursing home's visit to the circus, Jacob relives his past in his mind, and the more he does so, the more he recounts the secrets that lie in his past.
Jacob is a likeable character, although in old age, his has become cranky for some odd unexplained reason. I would speculate that he is uncomfortable with being old. There are memorable characters in the story as well. The prominent character being Rosie, the elephant. Jacob was her caregiver and grew very fond of her. The novel also shows us the oppressive hierarchy within the circus, the cruelty shown to animals (which is why Jacob found it hard to leave the circus) and the relationships built and formed inside the circus.
Gruen is a great storyteller. She obviously did some research for this book due to the great lengths she goes to in order to describe circus life with great authenticity. At rare times, it felt like too much research. But the characters as odd and eccentric as they are, are very fascinating. Gruen weaved a gem of a story with humor, love, adventure, murder and loyalty....did I mention murder? I mean, who doesn't like a little suspense? Overall, I thought Water for Elephants was enjoyable. I think the love story between Jacob and Marlena should've been thoroughly developed but otherwise I would highly recommend. Now if only the circus would come to town.
**** 4 STARS
Great Quotes/Excerpts from "Water for Elephants"
"When you are five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties, you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen. It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm--you start confidently, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not. You're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it."
"Age is a terrible thief. Just when you're getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse."
"Sometimes I think if I had to choose between an ear of corn or making love to a woman, I'd choose the corn."
"Now, go shovel some shit."