NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

4.0 out of 5 stars Sentimental and romantic old-time circus adventure story..., March 30, 2011
Ninety-three-year-old Jacob Jankowski, an unhappy resident of a nursing home, reminisces about his life with the traveling train circus -- Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth -- during the Great Depression. In and out of a small town, usually an overnight, the performers and working men put on a show that involves animals, freaks (the dwarf and the fat lady), the clowns, and all manner of circus act entertainment including a tent just for "gentlemen" and other delights.

Jacob's parents died just as he was about to write his final exams in veterinary school at Cornell University. Because of the hard economic times, his parents mortgaged everything to pay his tuition and thus he was left grief-stricken AND penniless. He ends up joining the Benzini Brothers by an accident of good timing and, because of his vet training, he ends up hired on to care for the horses and other animals. Along the way, the circus owner purchases an elephant named Rosie; she becomes a special part of this story.

Author Sara Gruen weaves a tale of hooking the rubes into coming to the show, second-rate performances that managed to wow the audiences, boozy nights, in-fighting among those with the train, backbreaking work, and other fascinating details of the traveling circus. Jacob quickly assimilates into the hard life and makes the mistake of falling in love with Marlena, one of the performers who has a sadistic husband. Not only cruel to his wife, August also beats and mistreats the animals. What will become of Jacob and the rest of the members of this group of misfits, outcasts, and showmen?

Readers will savor the story and applaud the somewhat maudlin ending. I read it quickly and found it very sweet and entertaining; recommended for teens and adults. Enjoy!

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