Just to put it out there, I ll admit straight off the bat that I m one of the people who enjoyed this book It was a fast read which I always appreciate, because I m perpetually drowning in a list of books TBR and it was fairly easy to get through I also didn t see the end coming until a few pages before it actually happened, which probably added immensely to my enjoyment factor.I ve been reading all the criticisms of this book in an attempt to organize my opinions after reading this book It seems like most of the complaints have to do with cruelty to humans and animals in the story and the sex scenes sprinkled throughout Jacob s experience with the circus.I do not feel that the sex described in these books was inappropriate or gratuitous In all instances namely Barbra s strip scene, Jacob s deflowering with the circus prostitutes and the scene where he and Marlena finally made love , these descriptions helped to move the plot and create human experiences and reactions, which is what makes a book worth reading Very few of us who will ever read this book can say that we were involved in a Depression era circus, however, must of us has some concept or experience of our own with sex In the case of this book, I feel that the sex in the book permits us to draw a parallel to these characters that we might otherwise never identify with because they are truly from another world I won t lie There were several uncomfortable scenes where Rosie the elephant was brutally beat by August, and I cringed during those scenes I was also extremely discomfited by the scenes where the big cats were fed rotting meat and other circus animals The instances of redlighting were also appalling.However, this is because I am 29 years old I was born in 1979 Not 1929 That time in American history is FOREIGN to me FOREIGN, FOREIGN, FOREIGN It s hard for me to fathom sometimes that people actually had experiences like that so recently in the past I have a grandmother who is 101 years old My father is 73 years old To listen to them describe life when they were my age is mind blowing to me, because some of the stories they tell me fall into the same category of shock that I felt while reading this story My 87 year old grandmother has told me stories about going to their family s beach house in the summers and how her mother would lock her inside the house whenever the Chicago gangster s had committed a big heist there were several who would spend time in Minnesota and Wisconsin while they were waiting for things to cool down My father has stories about chasing trains and jumping on them to go for a ride out of boredom And so it s my opinion that sex and animal cruelty were not the themes of the story and that to get hung up on them means missing out on something bigger Life was different then, so we can t apply our same logic to those events and have them still make sense They were tangential ideas peppered throughout the story to support the actual point of the story, which I felt had to do with the aging of a human being The fact that the story was not just ABOUT the circus supports this If the story was ABOUT the circus, there would have been no need to include details about Jacob as a 93 year old man Or to share conversations he has with the nurses in the assisted living home and with the other patients Aging is a very real, very human experience that none of us can escape Even if someone dies as a young person, they won t escape the issues that come with aging because there are people in our lives who WILL age and we will be there to witness it I ve already seen grandparents go through that transformation of a vital, independent adult to an old, frail being that needs help with even the most basic of a function, who can t remember names of family members and who eventually dies The drastic comparison between Jacob s life at the assisted living center and his flashbacks to his time spent at the circus give an extremely compelling glance at the passage of time and how it affects us all Now, all that being said There were several instances of the author s modern voice creeping in The one that bothered me most was the reference to August s diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia In 1933 Um, nope It wasn t recognized as a legitimate disease or even named until the 70 s I think, which was when my oldest brother was diagnosed with it If they d known about it at the time, he might be better off today, but there just wasn t enough information or research available, even in the late 70 s. SPOILERS IN MY REVIEW I M SORRY ABOUT SPOILING IT FOR PEOPLE, REALLY I AM, IT WAS NEVER INTENTIONAL BUT AS WITH ALL REVIEWS ESPECIALLY MINE THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS I DELETED ALL THE COMMENTS THAT WERE HARASSING ME ABOUT ACCIDENTLY SPOILING THE BOOK SERIOUSLY, I M SORRY, BUT PEOPLE DON T NEED TO BE COMPLETE AND UTTER ASSHOLES ABOUT IT NOT EVERYONE, TO THOSE OF YOU WHO WERE NICE, I REALLY AM SORRY THAT I SPOILED THE BOOK I FORGET THAT GOODREADS DOESN T HAVE A WAY OF HIDING SPOILERS THEY SHOULD IF I COULD GIVE YOU A COOKIE TO MAKEUP FOR THE FACT THAT I GAVE AWAY SOME STUFF GOOD READS OBVIOUSLY DELETED MY FIRST REVIEW, BUT THIS IS THE SAME EXACT THING I HAD WRITTEN BEFORE SO ONCE AGAIN, DON T READ THE NON CAPSLOCKED STUFF BELOW THIS BECAUSE IT DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS SO IF YOU LEAVE ME A COMMENT THIS TIME AROUND BITCHING ABOUT SPOILERS YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELF TO BITCH AT BECAUSE I FRIGGIN WARNED YOU AND JUST FOR THE RECORD THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS I could not put this book down I disagree with the statement that the ending was predictable On the contrary I was pleasantly surprised that Jacob and Marlena ended up together because I thought the book was going to follow the format of those never meant to be loves You know, where they hook up, yearn for each other, but can t grow old together.I think the biggest disappointment I had with the book was Marlena s relative weakness I think I would have loved the book even had she been written as a stronger woman Though I think her nature reflected that of most women back in the 30s Still, I got annoyed by the frequent crying she did I was proud of her for standing up to August in the end Even so, Marlena s weakness didn t stop me from loving the book.What drew me in the most was our flash forwards to 93 year old or is it 90 Jacob With the exception of his grouchiness everything about him reminded me of my grandfather, who past away last Thanksgiving at 97 It was the fact that he was failing physically but was holding on strong mentally that kept making me think of this man I admired so much Also, Jacob s undying love for his wife was extremely remeniscent of my grandfather s relationship with my grandmother If you have elderly loved ones this is just another reason for you to pick up this book It will probably make you want to call up said loved one and talk to them about their past and their memories Hopefully it will also strike a note to those who have ignored forgotten set aside their loved ones for so long, as Jacob s family has done with him.Animal lovers beware with this book As much as Jacob loves and has a passion for the animals he cares for, there is also a lot of animal abuse that takes place throughout the novel Being a huge animal rights activist and just all around animal lover, I knew that the animals probably weren t going to be treated very well seeing as 70 years ago animals in the circus were only taken care of as long as they were bringing in a profit, even then But despite having prepared myself, I was still caught of guard often So just know that upon picking up this book The happy animal moments do outweigh the cruelty, though, and if you know animal behavior at all you ll find yourself giggling and cheering quite a bit.On a final note, this book is being praised as a romance novel, but it s so much than that There are so many layers and characters in this book that to shove it in that one exclusive category could turn away a lot of potential readers who will love this book If you re a lover of animals, the elderly, adventure, circuses, the Great Depression, or even drunks, pick up this book and you ll find yourself hooked. Winner Of The BookBrowse Award For Most Popular BookAn Atmospheric, Gritty, And Compelling Novel Of Star Crossed Lovers, Set In The Circus World Circa , By The Bestselling Author Of Riding Lessons When Jacob Jankowski, Recently Orphaned And Suddenly Adrift, Jumps Onto A Passing Train, He Enters A World Of Freaks, Drifters, And Misfits, A Second Rate Circus Struggling To Survive During The Great Depression, Making One Night Stands In Town After Endless Town A Veterinary Student Who Almost Earned His Degree, Jacob Is Put In Charge Of Caring For The Circus Menagerie It Is There That He Meets Marlena, The Beautiful Young Star Of The Equestrian Act, Who Is Married To August, The Charismatic But Twisted Animal Trainer He Also Meets Rosie, An Elephant Who Seems Untrainable Until He Discovers A Way To Reach Her Beautifully Written, Water For Elephants Is Illuminated By A Wonderful Sense Of Time And Place It Tells A Story Of A Love Between Two People That Overcomes Incredible Odds In A World In Which Even Love Is A Luxury That Few Can Afford Oh man, this was lovely. I picked up Water for Elephants after seeing the movie You know, the one with that Twilight guy who for a change was allowed to smile And to have other facial expressions besidespermanently constipatedThe math is simpleDrum roll Rosie the elephant works better than Ex Lax But on to the book now In addition to Jacob Jankowski s love affair with Rosie the elephant and a noticeably less sweet affair with Marlena the bland chick we get a parallel story of Jacob the old guy who is ninety Or ninety three The latter was the part of the book that I loved It s a sad story of a cranky old guy in a nursing home who feels his mind and body falling apart but refuses to accept that, and realizes that life is beginning to pass him by He reminded me of so many elderly patients that I have taken care of in the hospital Sadness This is why I did not mind the far fetched happy ending hey, old folks don t always have enough happiness in their lives, and they have earned ita Here is what I did NOT care for The young Jacob s story the bulk of the book left me rather indifferent The premise and the beginning of the book were interesting, but the story started dragging about a third into the book It became repetitive August is charming, August is a villain, Marlena pouts, Rosie gets viciously beaten, Jake wants Marlena, Marlena wants Jake, Jake and Marlena can t have each other Rinse and repeat The story developments become and superficial and detached as the story progresses, as though the author ran out of steam and was finishing the book only because she was under contract to do so Many characters are flat as well Young Jacob is naive to the point of disbelief, and Marlena is very bland Besides her beauty, there seems to be little reason for anyone to love her Uncle Al is greedy and evil The only twist in the story view spoiler It wasn t Marlena who killed August It was Rosie hide spoiler Ladies and gentlemen Direct your attention to the performer in print You will be amazed, dazzled and mystified by the daring feats you are about to witness Well, that might be overstating a bit The story does open with drama, though A circus menagerie has gotten loose and there is mayhem The narrator, Jacob, sees the ringmaster murdered We then scoot ahead to the present Jacob is in his 90s and looks back, revisiting his ghosts From here, we flip back and forth between Jacob in the present and his recollections.When Jacob is 23, his parents are killed in an auto mishap, leaving him penniless He drops out of veterinary school, just shy of completion, and when the freight train he hops turns out to be transporting a circus he finds himself in a new life.Sara Gruen image from The Globe and MailThere is unkindness aplenty under the big top An evil owner, Uncle Al, Blackie the enforcer, August, the mood challenged and abusive supervisor of animals, and husband of Marlena, who performs with horses, and with whom Jacob is smitten But for every cruelty there is kindness Jacob is helped by the elderly alcoholic, Camel, when he is newly on the bum and Jacob later returns the favor A grumpy dwarf named Walter shows a kinder side, in time What is real and what is an illusion Gruen offers us a major sleight of hand that I will not write of here But there are sundry references throughout the book A circus, per se, is involved in the business of illusion There is a wonderful image here of a hippo being paraded through town, even though it has already gone to meet its maker Some relationships in the story are based on illusion as well But the core items here are Jacob s love for the married Marlena, and the behavior of a newly acquired elephant, who may not be as dumb as she at first appears While both tales are engaging, I did find the pacing to be somewhat slow Thankfully, this is a very fast read I know, that sounds contradictory, but one can flip through the pages quickly while waiting for something to happen Gruen does a nice job of making her characters real, a wonderful gift I have no idea if Gruen had any intention of making political observations, but here are a few things one might see in her work One gruesome practice engaged in by Uncle Al and his thugs is redlighting, or tossing employees from a moving train Think of it as a pink slip on steroids In the Depression era of the story, as in ours, there are plenty who would be than happy to toss those of us on the lower echelon, let alone their mamas, from a moving train Is Uncle Al the ultimate Republican Class comes in for a look The roustabouts, the working men, are treated far differently from the performers and from management The class system is sealed in place When times are tough, for instance, performers and managers are paid, but the roustabouts are often stiffed I know that reminds me of soaring corporate profits while unemployment remains high When one is physically damaged, management does its best to either dump the unwell, or find some darker use for them Caring for the sick is clearly not something that is done here, at least not for the workers Housing is distributed somewhat unequally as well In order to accommodate less than a dozen performers, we will now have sixty four working men sleeping under wagons on the flats p 131 You have to figure that any story featuring a character named Jacob should have a ladder, and indeed there are a few, but I did not see any particular heavenly references there And if one is looking for classical cues, one might find that in Genesis 25 27 the biblical Jacob is a dweller in tents Ok, it s not much Is there a parallel with the story of that earlier Jacob Maybe, but if so it did not really jump out at me While Water for Elephants may not be the greatest book on earth, it is a very engaging and entertaining page turner I would not confuse this with books with great literary ambition It is what it is, a darned good read, and that is good enough to perform in the center ring.PS I suggest you take a peek at the review by GR pal, Petergiaquinta He has a much better handle on the whole biblical reference thing, and some nice non biblical insights beyond EXTRA STUFFLinks to the author s personal, Twitter, and FB pages Sara Gruen s Water for Elephants is one of those rare novels, that will be read and re read, discussed and enjoyed for many years, by old and young alike Destined to be passed between family and friends and back again, until the tattered, time worn pages resemble the books beloved central character and narrator.Jacob Jankowski, just days from the final exams at Cornell University that would have attached the respectable Dr of Veterinary medicine forever to his name, had his world forever altered when his parents were killed in an auto accident Alone, frightened and penniless, the 23 hopped a train, never intending to run away with the circus although, looking back, as he sat in the nursing home telling his story, it seemed fate didn t much care about intentions, especially during the depression It was hard life, the Benzini Brothers Circus, hailed as the Most Spectacular Show On Earth which of course meant, it wasn t Ringling and anything that wasn t Ringling well, wasn t Ringling And so it went, from town to town, day after day set it up, tear it down the freaks and geeks, midgets and clowns worked, ate, performed, lived and often died together The harsh conditions are made even unbearable at times, by the greedy manager, Uncle Al and his insane animal trainer, August Yet somehow, in the midst of despair friendships and laughter persevered Although much of the laughter was alcohol induced, during the height of the depression and prohibition, you took what you could get.The narrator s transition from the young circus vet, to the elderly, cantankerous nursing home resident is a well crafted, bi lateral view that pulls the reader into this fictional world and never lets go Whether in his twenties admiring beautiful, equestrian performer, Marlena and caring for the animals he loved so dearly or in his nineties mulling over where to have breakfast and the indignities of old age, the warm, quick wit comes through loud and clear From the big top to the nursing facility Gruen s sharp, three dimensional, fictionally fluid characters will have you laughing out loud one minute, mouth agape in sheer terror the next.Hurry, hurry, step right up, readers and book lovers everywhere if you hunger for a reading experience chock full of every conceivable emotion, beautifully written and wholly engrossing, Water for Elephants is a wondrous world, where fact and fiction combine, delivering the most memorable and pleasurable hours, you will be spend with a book Characters so sharply drawn and wrought with emotion that there nearly flow off the page Sara Gruen s depictions of depression era America is as beautiful as it is haunting From unspeakable cruelty and brutality, to selfless acts of kindness, Water for Elephants not only has it all, but delivers it with unapologetic honesty and genuine heart felt passion This remains one of my top 5 favorite books.Happy Reading Rj Now THIS is a Good Book When I finished reading Water for Elephants, goose bumps covered my skin Now this is a good book Immediately engrossed, I had a hard time putting it down as I read the story of Jacob Jankowski and his reminiscence of days with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth otherwise known as a train circus in 1930 s America.A talented writer and storyteller, Sara Gruen takes readers on a bumpy and tense train ride through history This tale defines Americana There is no evidence of author here simply narrator telling the story from Jacob s perspective is he 91 or 93 years old I liked everything about the book, but primarily it was the crafting I liked best about this reading experience.Seamlessly, Gruen weaves together the modern day voice of this old man, a Cornell educated veterinarian, abandoned in a nursing home a.k.a assisted living facility and his memories of three months spent as the accidental veterinarian on a traveling circus Just before his final exams, he learns his parents have been killed in a car accident and this is what sets the story in motion Once he hops aboard a train, which he soon learns is a circus train, he falls in love with a pink sequined performer, Marlena, and battles her schizophrenic husband, August, who happens to be his boss Jacob, a sensitive and innocent soul, is highly likeable and befriends most of the animals aboard Most unforgettably is a Polish elephant by the name of Rosie But he also endears himself to his roommate, a dwarf named Walter, and a stowaway named Camel One can t help but root for Jacob through the entire story And to my complete delight, it comes to a surprising and very satisfying conclusion.This is an excellent novel and I give it my highest recommendation Well done Sara Gruen REVIEW CONTAINS SLIGHT SPOILERS I really wanted to like this book I think my low opinion is partially my fault, because I drove into the story with high expectations due to rave reviews I need to learn not to do that.The beginning of this novel was excellent A Ivy League dropout, who formerly studied to be a vet, runs away and joins the circus The time period The Depression and Prohibition America a historical era of uncertainty and chaos I was looking for an intriguing tale of a college youth thrust into an unfamiliar world, along with a dose of touching animal stories What I got was a romance Pure and simple.A major issue in this novel is the characterization The characters, with the exception of Walter aka Kinko and his dear Queenie, were flat and predictable Marlena and August bothered me the most Marlena being beautiful and kind and boring, and August being a cruel husband due to his mental illness Besides the hackneyed stereotype of the mentally ill being violent, August s schizophrenia appeared to be a plot device to bring Jacob and Marlena together without making them look like bad people for cheating I didn t buy it for half a second I think the affair would ve been much interesting if August waswell, basically a normal husband who was maybe a little too obsessed with his own accomplishments.The romance between Jacob and Marlena made me yawn While Jacob was a fairly developed character, Marlena was the epitome of a side female love interest gorgeous with little beneath the surface Barbara, the cooch girl , had depth than her If Marlena were developed further and if she had a flaw or two , I could buy their love story And hey, maybe one day I ll appreciate where the characters ended up Today is not that day On a similar note, I ve heard some people complain about the sex scenes, and while the descriptions are a bit odd, I had no problem with there being sex in the book The setting is a circus, there is booze everywhere, and sex is gonna happen.Again I think I went into this novel with high expectations and if I m getting the wrong idea or whatever, that s my own doing I ll probably pick it up again in the future to see if I think differently then. I wanted to like this book I really did I even enjoyed the first couple of chapters and was prepared for an entertaining summer read Eventually, however, the lack of imagination, melodrama, and just plain bad writing did it in for me At the risk of beating a dead horse albeit a dead horse with tremendous appeal to book clubs across the United States , let me enumerate the problems spoiler alert not that I suggest you read this book anyway 1 Neither the narrator, nor any of the other characters in Water for Elephants, for that matter, even remotely sound like they live in the 1930s, nor does the old man sound like an old man in the present day chapters in fact, he sounds exactly like he did as a 22 year old in the 1930s chapters This indicates that the author has either a completely tin ear for a dialogue or not enough imagination to put her self into the minds of her characters.2 In the movie version of this book which surely must the on the way , our narrator Jacob surely must be played by Alan Alda, age difference be damned He is, without a doubt, the nicest, most sensitive character to appear in any book I have the memory of reading and I m counting the Bible On at least half a dozen occasions, he breaks down in tears at the cruel injustice of the world, including becoming comatose for over an hour yes, over an hour the author is explicit after putting down a sick horse despite being a veterinarian Perhaps rethinking his line of work is in order.3 Melodrama and sentimentality, offered with the utmost sincerity, dominates all the action in the book Chapters are dotted with multiple fights, murders, stampedes and other calamities, creating not drama but rather a creeping sense of incredulousness in the reader To illustrate with two examples At the end of the 1930s storyline, following a deadly stampede in which the villain is murdered yes, murdered by an elephant yes, an elephant , the narrator marries the girl thus rescuing her from an abusive relationship and takes from the recently failed circus 12 horses, a dog, a monkey, and an elephant yes, an elephant to live with him and his wife happily ever after This is not played for laughs We are meant to be moved by the noble sacrifice, I think At the end of the present day storyline, our same narrator, now widowed and without his menagerie, runs off to join the circus again and the age of 93, in what has all the makings of a Hallmark movie.4 Modern day, therapy driven dare I say touchy feely sentiment pervades the entire story, especially those parts set in the 1930s The book teaches and remember, this is a book meant for adults, not children such valuable lessons as treating the elderly with respect is important racism and antisemitism are wrong violence against women is wrong being cruel to animals or even thinking of them as less important than people is wrong all people are important, not matter what there is little people dwarfs have a difficult time in the world and deserve or respect etc By keeping her story in bondage to these platitudes, Gruen creates exceptionally one dimensional characters who either support modern and politically correct values and thus are good or don t and thus are bad, unless of course they suffers from mental illness and the stings of antisemitism, in which case they are to be pitied I can t count the number of times I rolled my eyes, as the narrator, recently orphaned, covered in horse shit, and practically starving during the Great Depression, takes the time to think of those less fortunate A narrator with a little bit dirt on his soul would have been much believable and ultimately sympathetic.N.B To continue my rant The blurb that accompanies this book on the New York Times bestseller list reads something to the effect Young man and an elephant save Depression era circus Did the person who wrote that event read the book The circus collapses into a spasm of chaos and violence at the end of the book.
Sara Gruen is the 1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels AT THE WATER S EDGE, APE HOUSE, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, RIDING LESSONS, and FLYING CHANGES Her works have been translated into forty three languages, and have sold than ten million copies worldwide WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christ
- 335 pages
- Water for Elephants
- Sara Gruen
- 16 January 2019 Sara Gruen