Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publish Date: May 26, 2006
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5/5
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.
Jacob’s life gets turned upside down after the death of his parents. He is a young man in his early twenties, who, on a whim, hops on a passing train during his time of loss and confusion. The train turns out to belong to a struggling circus, and Jacob lands himself a job with them. Jacob is a veterinarian, or, rather, an almost veterinarian. He knows animals though, and they need someone to care for the circus menagerie. While working with the circus, Jacob meets Marlena, the star performer of the circus equestrian act.
Told from Jacob’s point of view. He is an old man, remembering his days with the circus. At first he is lost and meandering, but he finds his place among a group that he never would have imagined himself living and working with. He works with the animals, and is especially attached to an elephant. He has friends he cares about, and they care about him. He even finds love under the big top.
Beautifully written. Entertaining characters. The setting of a traveling circus during the Great Depression is captivating. Tragic, atmospheric, and romantic.