Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Water for Elephants

Posted by nliakos on January 2, 2012

by Sara Gruen ( Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill 2006)

Running away and joining the circus may be a cliché, but Sara Gruen puts a twist on it and spins a tale that is really hard to put down. The runner is Jacob Jankowski, whose world collapses around him just as he is about to sit for his final exams in veterinary medicine at Cornell. With no family and all of his plans for the future wrecked, Jacob hops a train only to discover that it is carrying a second-rate circus. Happy to have an (almost) veterinarian on board, they let him stay. Over the next few months, Jacob learns the ropes of circus life, falls in love, and encounters great goodness and great evil.  The story is told in flash-backs by the 90- (or 93-) year-old Jacob, who can’t stand what his life has become in a nursing home, on a day when a small circus opens just down the street.

Gruen meticulously researched her subject and incorporates several of the true anecdotes she came upon into her story, such as a lemonade-stealing elephant and a menagerie stampede. The story pulls the reader along, but the ending strains the imagination, in my view.

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