Genre: American Historical Fiction
As soon as I finished the novel, I watched the movie, and boy did they leave out quite a few things. Of course movies have to be cut in a presentable way for an audience, but because of the way the novel is laid out, the movie dos not do the novel justice.
Water for Elephants is a historical novel by Sara Gruen. The main story takes place during the Great Depression, a time when many people didn’t have food, homes, or jobs. Jacob Jankowski, a Polish American, is lucky enough to have his parents support of his going to Cornell University to be a veterinarian. But when Jacob’s parent’s die in a car crash, everything goes to the bank, and Jacob has nowhere to go, having not finished his final veterinary exam.
The layout of the novel is very interesting. The reader is actually presented with Jacob in a care home when he is 93 years old. He gets huffy about one of the other old men there who claimed to have carried water for elephants back in the day. Because of this, Jacob reminisces about how he accidentally, but gladly, joined a circus. A circus is going to be showing just up the street from the care facility Jacob lives in, and he can’t wait to see it.
Each chapter that goes back to the Great Depression era also has a photo from the time period from various circuses, mostly the Ringling Brothers.
Back in time, Jacob never finished his veterinary exam and doesn’t know what to do with his life. When a rain comes by, he hops it. Because of his veterinary abilities, he is coaxed into staying with The Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth, where he meets Marlena, the beautiful horse whisperer. Of course, she is married to equestrian director, August, who happens to be schizophrenic, leading to many of the main issues in the novel.
When Marlena’s main show horse needs to be put down, Uncle Al-the circus owner-obtains an elephant for August and Marlena to work with. The elephant-Rosie- is apparently as dumb s a rock, but when Jacob learns that she understands Polish, the show becomes a major hit.
Because of the depression, Uncle Al was unable to pay many of his workers and “red-lighted” them off the train–throwing them off over ravines hoping they would die. Some of the survivors come back and release a bunch of the animals in the menagerie, causing one of the greatest circus disasters in history. By this time, Jacob has coaxed Marlena into leaving August. In fact, she’s pregnant. When The Benzini Brother’s are no more, the reader learns from the 93-year-old Jacob that he did, indeed, end up marrying Marlena, that he took Rosie, eleven horses, and a dead clown’s dog with him to the Ringling Brothers. So, if anyone is a circus pro, it is Jacob.
This novel is very interesting in that is relatively stands out from other novels in the fiction section. It is an aspect of American history that many people may not know too much about, and it was very enlightening to see that aspect of the history. Gruen did a phenomenal amount of research for this novel, and I would say YES, you should read it at least once. I wouldn’t say it’s one of those again and again books, but it is definitely interesting.