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Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen
Synopses & Reviews
An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, 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, grifters, 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.
"With a showman's expert timing, [Gruen] saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale." New York Times Book Review
"Gruen has done her homework...lively with historical detail and unexpected turns....[A] delightful gem springing from a fascinating footnote to history that absolutely deserved to be mined." Denver Post
"One of the many pleasures of this novel is the opportunity to enter a bizarrely coded and private world with its own laws, superstitions and vocabulary....The pleasures of that world were so compelling, so detailed and vivid, that I couldn't bear to be torn away from it for a single minute." Chicago Tribune
"Jankowski is waiting for the circus to come to town, and what happens when it finally arrives provides the book's punch line. Gruen's sympathy for this character and for the aging process in general is her strongest suit." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Gruen sketches out character, events and the circus' special lingo with well-chosen words....She keeps the story moving like a speeding train." Charlotte Observer
"Old-fashioned and endearing, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story." Library Journal
"The leisurely recreation of the circus's daily routine is lovely and mesmerizing." Kirkus Reviews
"The circus, the Great Depression, a complex elephant, equally complex love, the mists and twists of memory articulated in the utterly winning voice of a very old man who's seen it all: these are the irresistible elements of Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen has written an utterly transporting novel richly full of the stuff of life." Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
"Gorgeous, brilliant, and superbly plotted, Water for Elephants swept me into the world of the circus during the Depression, and it did not let me go until the very end. I don't think it has let me go, even now. Sara Gruen has a voice to rival John Irving's and I am hopelessly, unabashedly in love with this book. Read it." Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama
"[A] well-researched adventure into the weird and charming universe of the Depression-era circus....If you are expecting a quick, straightforward story that still manages to give your imagination a meat-and-potatoes meal worthy of the circus cookhouse, Water for Elephants is an excellent candidate." Portland Oregonian
Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.
Jacob was there because his luck had run out--orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act--in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.
About the Author
Sara Gruen's first novel, Riding Lessons, was published in 2004. She is an animal lover who lives with her husband, three children, five cats, two goats, a dog, and a horse in an environmental community north of Chicago. Many of the characters and incidents in the novel are based on real people and true stories gleaned from her extensive research into the world of traveling circuses of the 1930s.
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