Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Water for Elephants

Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Year: 2006
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 2

A five-list bestseller, Water for Elephants has been on the lips of many readers around the world for about five years now. Previously almost unknown, Sara Gruen is now one of the world's top authors, propelled to the front of her field with her gritty, tasteful research in her compelling piece about the traveling circuses of the 30's. From beginning to end, her perspective through the eyes of her characters shows us a world behind the brightly colored circus tops that we all thought we knew.
Beginning in 1931 at Cornell University, we follow Jacob Jankowski, a young veterinarian who loses his parents to a brutal automobile accident. He wanders off along the train tracks and manages to hop aboard what he abruptly discovers as the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth- a train circus. Through Jacob's eyes, we find the dark world behind the canvas and the animals, showing us the gruesome and heaving underworkings of circus, from the unscrupulous Uncle Al to the aggravating August to the entertaining Kinko. Jacob becomes deeply involved in the circus as its veterinarian, and eventually the collapse of the circus itself.
The story of the Benzini Brothers is interspersed with a frame story, which involves the ninety (or ninety-three) year old Jacob in his nursing home, waiting for his family to take him to the circus that is in town and having all kinds of amusing interactions with the nurses and other ancient inmates. However, I found myself hurrying through those sections to get back to the real story, where Jacob eventually meets Rosie. Who's Rosie? Well, look at the title of the book and surmise.
Water for Elephants not only engrosses us in a world that we are all fascinated with, it engrosses us into its characters. At the beginning of the book, Jacob spends paragraphs whining about how he is probably "the oldest male virgin on the face of the earth." However, as the story progresses, we start to see him grow up before our very eyes, changing into the mature man that we all want him to be. Not to mention the other characters- Uncle Al's fascination with freaks, August's strange mood swings, Marlena's personality quirks, and Kinko's guarded personality. Every single one of them not only becomes present and active, but very, very human.
There are some sections of the book that I wouldn't hesitate to term as awkward, if not outright uncomfortable. Water for Elephants is definitely not a book for children under fifteen, especially boys- it requires a certain level of maturity to read. However, I concur with Gruen's descriptions of what occurs; it helps to develop Jacob's character into maturity, if a little awkwardly. There are a few scenes that made me squirm, just because I am a visual reader, and any descriptive words immediately leap into my mind as images. Let's not talk about Barbara, though.
There is a movie coming out soon that should be fairly PG-13, though, so if a fifteen year old wants to know the story, that should be pretty clean (I'm pretty disappointed about who they picked for Marlena, though. I like Reese Witherspoon, but she doesn't fit the description at all), and I am actually looking forward to seeing Robert Pattinson actually act. It comes out on April 22, 2011.
Water for Elephants, as I mentioned before, is a really, really popular book, so almost any book store should have it. If not, it should be available online for fairly cheap. I'm actually going to call paperback on this one; the paperback copies are surprisingly durable. They're actually running for around $14.00, too, so that's just a bonus.
Anyway, that's it for me today. Happy reading, my dear pageturners!

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