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.
"[This] sprightly tale has a ringmaster's crowd-pleasing pace."-Entertainment Weekly - Entertainment Weekly
"For pure story, this colorful, headlong tale of a Depression-era circus simply can't be beat. Heroes, villains, romance, a wild-animal stampede! Big fun from page 1."-Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly: "Best & Worst 2007" - Entertainment Weekly
"Lively with historical detail and unexpected turns. . . . Water for Elephants is a rich surprise, a delightful gem springing from a fascinating footnote to history that absolutely deserved to be mined." -The Denver Post - The Denver Post
When his parents are killed in a traffic accident, Jacob Jankowski hops a train after walking out on his final exams at Cornell, where he had hoped to earn a veterinary degree. The train turns out to be a circus train, and since it's the Depression, when someone with a vet's skills can attach himself to a circus if he's lucky, Jacob soon finds himself involved with the animal acts-specifically with the beautiful young Marlena, the horse rider, and her husband, August. Jacob falls for Marlena immediately, and the ensuing triangle is at the center of this novel, which follows the circus across the states. Jacob learns the ins and outs of circus life, in this case under the rule of the treacherous Uncle Al, who cheats the workers and deals roughly with patrons who complain about blatant false advertising and rip-off exhibits. Jacob and Marlena are attracted to each other, but their relationship is fairly innocent until it becomes clear that August is not merely jealous but dangerously mentally deranged. Old-fashioned and endearing, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story told by the older Jacob, now in his nineties in a nursing home. From the author of Riding Lessons; recommended for all libraries. - Jim Coan, SUNY College at Oneonta,Library Journal
"At its finest, Water for Elephants resembles stealth hits like 'The Giant's House,' by Elizabeth McCracken, or 'The Lovely Bones,' by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. . . . Black-and-white photographs of real American circus scenes from the first half of the century are interspersed throughout the novel, and they brilliantly evoke the dignified power contained in the quieter moments of this unusual brotherhood. . . . 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 - New York Times Book Review
"You'll get lost in the tatty glamour of Gruen's meticulously researched world, from spangled equestrian pageantry and the sleazy side show to an ill-fated night at a Chicago speak-easy." -Washington Post - The Washington Post
"You'll get lost in the tatty glamour of Gruen's meticulously researched world, from spangled equestrian pageantry and the sleazy side show to an ill-fated night at a Chicago speak-easy" - The Washington Post
"Novelist Gruen unearths a lost world with her rich and surprising portrayal of life in a traveling circus in the '30s. An emotional tale that will please history buffs-and others." -People - People Magazine
"Water for Elephants resembles stealth hits like The Giant's House, by Elizabeth McCracken, or The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. . . . 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."-The New York Times Book Review - New York Times Book Review
"Has a ringmaster's crowd-pleasing pace" - Entertainment Weekly - Entertainment Weekly
Showing 1-4 of the 4 most recent reviews
1 . Great writing
Posted April 23, 2012 by Alison , Los AngelesI read this book long before I heard they were making a movie of it. The writing is fabulous - the unusual setting and situation and the characters all made me fall in love with this book. I passed it on to others, and they all enjoyed it!
2 . One of the best books ive read!
Posted April 19, 2012 by Olivia , MiamiI would tell anybody and everybody to read this book... maybe not lower than 7th grade though but I would read this again and again. If you liked the movie this is way way way better but the movie helps you have a understanding of what happenes even though its not the same. Really amazing. I didnt want it to end!
3 . Wow!
Posted March 09, 2012 by Alice , ChicagoI loved this book.
4 . couldnt put it down
Posted August 01, 2011 by nena vee , so cali read it straight into the night, from what i remember:
1am, oh hotdamn this is good!
4am, oh crap its early few more chapters!.
6am, DAMN time for class!
i like to read, but books like this are rare. lovely setting, good plot, and all i can say is meticulously written. jolly good.
April 28, 2007
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