Summary: 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.
Review: I gave this 5 out of 5 stars.
I wasn’t going to read this book, but my grandmother told me it was worth the read. I am glad I listened. I loved it. The prologue was extremely intriguing and had me hooked. Although it does give you some idea of where the story is going, I still didn’t know how things would turn out. I loved Jacob, especially as an old man in the nursing home. I loved how feisty he was with the nurses and I felt bad that he wound up there by himself.
I’ve never been all that interested in circuses, but reading a book set in during the Great Depression and meeting some of the characters in the book gave me a new appreciation for the circus and the men and women who worked in one during those times. I am torn between feeling that it would have been amazing and exotic to be in a traveling circus and feeling that it would have been tough and somewhat unrewarding. I think it was probably both.
This book is very multifaceted, which is probably why I loved it. Not only does the reader get to experience the circus and the living conditions and dynamics between the performers and workers, the politics of Uncle Al and the bosses, caring for the amazing array of animals, training an elephant, and seeing all of this through Jacob’s eyes, we also get to experience complex emotions between Jacob, Marlena, and August. We get to see how complex Jacob is as a person and watch him change from the most compassionate person to a ruthless, hate-filled person to an old, nostalgic man in a nursing home who doesn’t remember how old he is anymore.
Wonderful novel and one I would recommend to everyone because of the wide array of topics and emotions it touches upon.
This book also completes category 4 of the Eclectic Reader Challenge 2012:
- Crime/Mystery Fiction
- Romantic Fiction
Historical Fiction Young Adult Fantasy Science Fiction
- Non Fiction
Horror Thriller /Suspense Classic Your favorite genre