Sunday, February 3, 2008

Julie's Review: Water for Elephants

Summary: 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 ownway 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.

Review: First, I just want to say that I really didn't want to read Water for Elephants: A Novel because the circus was a major character and it just didn't interest me. Second, I want to thank my girlfriend for sending it to me because it was one of the best books she'd ever read. Third, it was hard to find a summary that didn't ruin the story for those of you who haven't read it so I hope the one above doesn't ruin too much of the story for you, I didn't think it would.

Since I was skeptical walking into this book I was amazed at how quickly I became enthralled by Sara Gruen's vivid descriptions of both the time period and the traveling circus. The story starts off with gusto and doesn't let up because frankly you want to know what happens. Along the way you meet all the interesting characters in the story. Most of them are so vividly described that they will forever be ingrained into my memory. The story is a combination of history lesson, love story between both man and woman, woman and animals, and man and animals, and mystery. I enjoyed how she wrote the story from a 90+ year old man's point of view and how the story moved from past to present. I think that by telling the story through Jacob's eyes and moving the story back and forth between past and present made the story seem that much more real.

Ms. Gruen is a masterful storyteller who knows how to describe the scenery in such a manner that those of the traveling circus are forever burned in my brain. I also enjoyed how the book had historical pictures of Ringling Circus before every chapter, it made everything seem a bit more real than just a fictional story wrapped in historical fact. I'm sure her fiction is pretty close to someone's reality though. I always feel that unless it's a far-fetched storyline, it's probably happened somewhere in the human race.

I can't give this book a 5/5 purely because I could see some of the storyline come fast down the train tracks but I'm also not holding it against the story either. The love story was pretty obvious from the get go as was part of the ending of the book. There was not a point while reading that I thought the book dragged and I felt the ending was a perfect way to wrap up the story.

For those of you who might have this book on your TBR list or for those of you who have thought about purchasing it, buy it and read it soon. I'm sorry that I was so off put by the backdrop in which the story takes place that I didn't read it for over 1.5 years.

The next time Sara Gruen releases a new book, I'll be there to buy it. I truly think that she's one of the most gifted storytellers I've read in a while.

Final Take: 4.75/5


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