Over 10,000,000 copies in print worldwide
#1 New York Times Bestseller
A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
A Newsday Favorite Book of 2006
A USA Today Bestseller
A Major Motion Picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz
Jacob Janowski’s luck had run out--orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was the Great Depression and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. There he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but brutal animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this group of misfits was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
With its spotlight on elephants, Gruen's romantic page-turner hinges on the human-animal bonds that drove her debut and its sequel (Riding Lessons and Flying Changes) but without the mass appeal that horses hold. The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures, including an elephant who only responds to Polish commands. He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. Despite her often clich d prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Wonderful read, fascinating setting
Gruen's novel is a first person narrative that has a memorable narrator, particularly when it is the elderly version of Jacob speaking (he's "90. Or 93."). The elder Jacob's narrative is interwoven with Jacob when he's in his twenties. The elder's storyline is amusing and sad at the same time, but ends wonderfully.
The younger Jacob's story is about his summer working with a train circus. The book is filled with wonderful characters and a thoroughly engaging world of the circus. Jacob has to navigate the complex social milieu he finds himself in, with performers and workers in two different classes, and even those divided by a hierarchy. As the circus vet, he works with the animals and when the circus takes on a seemingly difficult to work with elephant, Rosie, he develops a special bond with her. Rosie is a great character and much of the plot revolves around her in many ways.
Jacob falls for Marlena, who works the equestrian acts, and happens to be the wife of the mercurial August, who handles the animal acts. Marlena ends up working with Rosie as well, helping develop an act which the circus knows will bring in the money. But through Jacob, we also learn the brutality of the circus as well - men no longer needed tossed from the moving train, the rush to buy out other circus acts when the collapse financially, and the reality that often-times when audiences don't fill up the show, workers go unpaid. Then the relationship with Jacob and Marlena builds, as does August's paranoia and anger, and the circus faces more hurdles and issues. The tension builds until the wonderful climax.
The novel is peopled with other great characters - Walter, the dwarf clown, Camel, the old drunk worker and Uncle Al, the wheeling and dealing owner of the circus. The one flaw of the novel was Marlena - she was not as well-drawn as some of the others and I wanted more of her. She and August should have been matches for Jacob, but she fell short.
The older Jacob narrative was well done, with Gruen capturing the angst and humor of growing old. The interaction between Jacob and his favorite nurse are touching and funny.
The narrative was tight and moved quickly, the action and tension of the main narrative played off against the slower narrative of the elder Jacob. Gruen's descriptions were detailed but never exhaustive or overdone.
Water For Elephants is a good read - entertaining story, emotional without being melodrama, with interesting characters and interesting setting.
An instant classic
This is a story of a man and his life. It starts off in a retirement home and quickly moves to the mans boyhood describing his life running away and joining the circus. A story of adventure, love, life and danger.
A must read for all who ever dreamed of running away and joining the circus.
Water for Elephants
Had trouble putting down my IPod! Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Most often I only enjoy if I feel like I am there living the experience in print!