Water for Elephants – Book Review

Water for Elephants book coverWater For Elephants by Sarah Gruen is the story of an old man in a nursing home remembering his life as a young man living in the United States during the Great Depression.  His life seems secure, he is studying to be a veterinarian at an Ivy league school and has plans to return home and join his father’s business.  Jacob’s world is turned upside down when his parents are killed in a car accident and he discovers that they have no money: his father has been taking payment by goods and services for years, because he cannot bear to see an animal suffer.

Mere hours from graduation, Jacob cannot muster the strength to take his final exam.  Not knowing where to go, Jacob jumps a train that turns out to be the Benzini Brothers Circus.  From there he gets involved with Marlena, Rosie, August, Kinko, Camel, and the rest of the circus. 

The nursing home scenes were very touching, I really got emotionally involved with Jacob, especially so in these scenes where is he trying to simply continue to live his life and felt he was being thwarted, thus his need to retreat into the past.  The fact that he was by and large a good man made soem of his cowardly decisions that much more difficult, but overall you could feel that he was trying to do the right thing. 

Other than August and Uncle Al and a couple of their henchmen, all of Gruen’s characters were flawed yet likeable, very human.  The only thing that ruined the book for me was the statement that Gruen made that the backbone of her story is the biblical story of Jacob.  The example that is cited in the questions in the back of the book is that both Jacobs at one point lay on their backs with their head on a stone.  Wow, great, they were both guys too!  And their names were both Jacob!  I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it, other than perhaps some very grand, very overarching themes.

As I mentioned before, this was our book for book club, which was held last night.  My book club LOVED this book.  We started talking about it before everyone got there because we just could not wait.  We even started talking about it before the wine tasting, which NEVER happens.  We had a grand old time discussing it, too, after the wine tasting (we were trying Tempranillos, by the way). 

Buy this book on Amazon: Water for Elephants: A Novel

5 comments to Water for Elephants – Book Review

  • I definitely need to read this. I was planning on having my on-line book club read it the first of the year, but I don’t have the time or energy to run two blogs while I’m in school. I’ll have to read it on my own. It sounds great.

  • Heather

    I’m planning to read this book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. At first I avoided it b/c I thought it was something I’d NEVER be interested in … but then I heard so many great things about it that I just had to give in. Now I’m really looking forward to starting it!

  • I have finally acquired a copy of this from a book swap! I am glad you reviewed it. I ‘m never one to read something new until it’s settled for a while and real readers, like yourself, and not just the book sellers, have said something about it. Thanks.

  • I had mixed emotions about this book. And I don’t think I read the questions in the book – by the end, I was rather over it. Your review does capture the flavor of the book and I agree about being emotionally involved with Jacob – some of my favorite passages were the interactions in the nursing home. I rather liked some of the surprises as well.

  • Carolsue

    I have read so many reviews on this book. I can’t quite decide if it is my cup of tea or not, but I may break down and read it anyway based on the reviews. I have found so many good books that way!
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