water for elephants

title: Water for Elephants

author: Sara Gruen

genre: Fiction, circus, vet, love

dates read: August 7th – August 11th

review: 5 out of 5 stars

summary: Jacob Jankowski’s parents die in a tragic car accident, right before he’s to take his final college exams and join his father’s veterinary practice. He finds that his parents took out a mortgage to pay for his Ivy League tuition, and he is left with nothing. Alone and depressed, he hops on a train, which happens to house the circus equipment and crew/animals for Benzini Brothers. He is befriended by Camel, an old man who is fond of drinking and works the ticket booth. He is brought on as the circus vet and learns the hierarchy and intricacies of working as in a circus. Poverty, love, and murder are the name of the game and Jacob learns to play.

personal thoughts: I’ve always thought of the circus as a sad place to be and work. I did go to see a show when I was very young, I hardly remember it. I think there was a motorcycle cage where the motorcyclist drove all the way around the sphere, even going upside down. I do remember getting a little clown doll, with a pretty painted face and a shiny costume. Given that this story was set during the time of the depression, I wonder how much the experience of working for the circus has changed.   Throughout the story, there was a haze of sadness, not only because it kept going to the present, where Jacob is 93 years old and in a nursing home. The desperation and poverty of the people was palpable, the mistreatment of the crew members and animals was difficult to swallow. But I think a good story is one that can evoke real emotion. This one did, and while that emotion was almost always some strain of sadness, I’m okay with it since to do otherwise would dishonor the story Gruen was telling.

favorite quotes:
“Age is a terrible thief. Just when you’re getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back. It makes you ache and muddies your head and silently spreads cancer throughout your spouse.” p. 8

“A love for these animals wells up in me suddenly, a flash flood, and there it is, solid as an obelisk and viscous as water.” p. 141

“My brain is like a universe, whose gases get thinner as thinner at the edges. But it doesn’t dissolve into nothingness. I can sense something out there, just beyond my grasp, hovering, waiting – and God help me if I’m not skidding toward it again, mouth open wide.” p. 214

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3 thoughts on “water for elephants

  1. This sounds like a great read. Where do the robots come in, tho? I’m just curious because it’s mentioned in the genre section.

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