Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Rating: 5/5 stars
An amazingly beautiful story, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants is the tale of Jacob Jankowski and the 3 months that he worked for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus. When we meet Jacob, he is in his 90s, living in a nursing home and reliving his days with the Benzini Brothers circus. It was through a chance encounter after the death of his parents that caused him to leave veterinary school and put his fate with the circus.
I was really surprised by how quickly the story captured my attention. The novel jumps back and forth from "now," where we see Jacob dealing with the trials of old age, and "then," as he remembers his days with the Benzini Brothers circus, and how those days formed him into the man that he would grow to become. The sequences are fluid, though, and you find yourself easily swept along with the story. Sara Gruen's prose is amazing; I found myself on several occasions holding my breath, I was so wrapped up in the story. Gruen clearly portrays her characters emotions and captures each of their voices and personalities perfectly and her portrayal of the lives of the circus folk in the 1920s-30s was very grim. It was amazing to me that so many people would live that kind of life, but I guess when that was the only work to be had, they'd take what they could get.
Gruen seems to have done her research as well. Even though the Benzini Brothers circus is fictitious, I think it was clearly influenced by any number of circus' in operation at the time. She also makes reference to several actual circus events (such as the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 and the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train accident of 1918). Even down to the band playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever" during an emergency, Gruen seems to have done her homework on circus life.
If you haven't read this yet, I'd really recommend it. I'd had the book on my shelf since it was released (I was caught up in the buzz, but never got around to actually reading it) and after 2 friends mentioned it a couple weeks back, I decided to take it off the shelf and give it a try. I'm sorry that it took me that long to get around to reading it.