Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Synopsis in a Sentence:
An elderly man (Jacob Jankowski) revisits his days living with a circus as he wastes away at a nursing home.

My Thoughts:
In short, I really enjoyed reading this book! I love when you happen to stumble upon a book that is truly unique...unlike anything else out there. When I heard the movie was going to be coming out for this, I really wanted to read the book first. The film was enjoyable, but there is so much rich detail in this novel that they just didn't have time for in the movie version.

This book utilizes flashbacks in an expertly drawn way...many years after the fact, Jacob reminisces about his stint spent working as a vet on a failing traveling circus. The use of these flashbacks, and the fact that we get to see Jacob as a young AND old man gives his character a depth that it just wouldn't have had otherwise. Also, Sara Gruen's clear and concise writing style really helps you to visualize every scene in this book.

The love story that develops between Jacob and Marlena (who does the Liberty Horses act) is both sweet and complicated at the same time. In many ways, Jacob emerges as her hero and saves her from most likely being killed at the hands of her abusive husband.

In some ways, even though this story is told from Jacob's perspective, the main character and "star" of the show is Rosie the elephant. She and Jacob form an unlikely friendship and she teaches him a lot about life and love by the end. Any animal lovers out there be warned though...there are some scenes in the book which describe animal cruelty and those parts were hard to read and watch in the movie! Rosie is so loveable though, and you find yourself savoring the pages where Gruen writes about her.

This book kinda has everything...history, mystery, animals, and a love story. I would definitely recommend it to anyone whose looking for something maybe a little bit gritty and unique to read next!

What I liked least: While I loved getting to know the elderly Jacob and delving into his flashbacks, Gruen portrays him as kind of a bitter and grumpy old man. It's understandable that he might feel this way as he is now confined to a nursing home after living such an exciting life, but I guess I wanted to see him recounting more of the life lessons he's learned and relishing the joys of his past.

What I liked most: I loved reading about all of the vivid historical depictions of a Depression era circus. I adore anything vintage and it was enthralling to read about sequined costumes, quirky circus acts and characters, and just Depression era life in general. I also liked the fact that this was very different than any other book I've read before...definitely took me out of my comfort zone!


  1. I read this one a few years ago but I think it's time for a re-read soon! I loved it!

  2. Loved your review, it has made me realise I may really enjoy it. I like that you described it as unique.

    Great review Rebecca

  3. I enjoyed this one too. I especially enjoyed the ending!

  4. Hearing about the depression era circus stuff was one of my favorite parts as well. Fab review!

  5. I might have to pick this one up! I love Depression era stories, and vintage! Thanks Rebecca!

  6. The part that most intrigues me about your review is your description of the bond between Rosie and Jacob. Isn't it amazing how much a human being can love an animal?

  7. This book made me think. I start Medicare next week and for me this novel was scary! I love animals and am old enough to remember the circus parade through town. The tents going up and the rough men working there. I really enjoyed the story.
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