Name of Book: Water for Elephants
By: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Copyright Date: 2006
Number of Pages: 335 (hardbook)
Reason for Reading: mother-in-law recommended it and lent it to me from her Kindle
Jacob Jankowski is in his early nineties when we first meet him. He lives in a nursing home. As the story progresses, we get the story of Jacob’s days with a traveling circus during the days of the Great Depression in pieces through flashbacks as he goes in and out of reveries.
At twenty-three, Jacob was about to take his final exam to become a veterinarian when he receives the news that both of his parents have died in a car accident. Jacob’s grief is violent and irrational. He doesn’t finish his test, packs up a few belongings and starts walking to nowhere. He eventually hops a train that happens to belong to Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.
His adventures on the train are wild and unpredictable. The circus is a completely different world with its own set of rules. People get thrown off the trains. August, the animal trainer, is sadistic and cruel to the animals and people around him. Uncle Al, the circus owner, is unscrupulous and conniving. The circus peeps suffer for their superiors’ ill ways. Jacob struggles in this environment save for when he is with the animals. His time with the circus is short-lived but full of strife, most of it stemming from his attraction to August’s wife.
I was very dubious about this book. Initially, I had no desire to see it. Circuses make me uncomfortable so I didn’t think I would enjoy reading a story with the circus being it’s primary character. However, I was utterly wrong. Gruen’s research was so thorough that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by all of the details and secrets of circus life that I was learning. The story was engaging and the characters well-fleshed. I especially enjoyed the older Jankowski. I felt like he was a real, living being.
The story unexpectedly captured my heart and I plowed through it in a couple of days. I am glad I went out of my comfort zone and picked this one up.
After having read the book, I was really excited to see the movie. Before reading it, I was on the fence. I only wanted to see it because Reese Witherspoon was in it.
Overall, I thought the movie was well-done. It brought the circus to life, which was the most rewarding aspect for me. I was a little annoyed by some of the changes they made in terms of sequence, but I suppose I understand why they made the changes they did. I still think it would have been interesting if they had just left those parts alone, but hey, I don’t make the movies. I just enjoy them. Despite these few changes, the movie was enjoyable and well done. For the most part, it did justice to the book.
But of course, it goes without saying, the book was better than the movie. The movie was like cake.