Water For Elephants

by

Title: Water for Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: 335

Playaway: 11.5 hours (unabridged)

Genre: Historical Fiction/Best Seller/Audio Book

Geographical Setting: United States

Time Period: 1931 & Present Day

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: The time period is the Great Depression. Jacob Jankowski, a young man of twenty-three, is about to take his final exams in veterinary medicine and join his father’s veterinary practice when his life falls apart. He learns that his parents have died in a car accident leaving him with nothing. Jacob, suddenly homeless and heartbroken, leaves school and hops a train unaware that it is a circus train. When Uncle Al, the unscrupulous owner of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, learns that Jacob studied veterinary medicine, he hires him to be the circus’ vet and Jacob finds himself immersed in the exotic, gritty and often dangerous world of a traveling circus. While Jacob cares for the menagerie of animals that make up the circus’ animal acts, he finds himself falling in love with both a magnificent, intelligent elephant named Rosie and the beautiful circus performer, Marlena , who is married to August, Jacob’s cruel, sadistic boss. Jacob and Marlena manage to fight their growing attraction to each other until one fateful day when there is a horrific incident that involves Jacob, Marlena, August and even Rosie. This engrossing story, told in flashbacks by Jacob who is now in his nineties and living in a nursing home, paints a vivid and accurate picture of circus life while following the circus and its unusual and sometimes freakish inhabitants as it travels from town to town across the United States.

Audio Book Review: In this entertaining audio version of Water for Elephants, two distinct voices bring to life the story of Jacob Jankowski. David LeDoux provides the voice of Jacob as a 23 year old, a voice that is full of passion, enthusiasm, and wonder at all he sees and experiences and John Randolph Jones provides the voice of Jacob at the age of 90 or 93. Jones’ voice, cracked, reedy, and world weary, brings to life the elder Jacob as a man who, at the age of 93,rails against his current surroundings as he reflects on his past, wonders what happened to the young man he used to be and asks the question, who is the old man in the mirror?

Subject Headings: Circus performers; Reminiscing in old age; Depressions –1929-1941; Traffic accident victims; Human/animal relations; Parents — Death; Veterinarians; Men/women relations; Triangles (Interpersonal relations); Women circus performers; Circus animals; Women horse trainers; Elephants; Human-animal communication; Manic-depressive men; Circus.

Appeal: engrossing, page-turner, vivid, quirky secondary characters, authentic, accurate, exotic, circus performers, cinematic, story told through flashbacks, resolved ending, accurate, lush, detailed descriptions of the life of a traveling circus, Great Depression, gritty, nostalgic, romantic, mesmerizing.

Three terms that best describe this book: Exotic, Nostalgic, Circus

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day – The interconnected short stories that are featured in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives and relationships between the townspeople of Lima, Indiana and the acrobats, clowns and other circus performers of the Great Porter Circus who spend their winters in Lima during the years 1884-1939. (Circus performers, narrative that shifts across time, circus elephants and trainers).

Embrace Me by Lisa Samson – Valentine who is scarred and disfigured, and Lella, a quadriplegic, become best friends while making a living working in the Roland Wayfaring Marvels and Oddities. (Circus performers, traveling circus).

Waterborne: A Novel by Bruce Murkoff – Engineer Filius Poe,  pretty Lena McCardell, and Jewish outlaw Lew Beck all journey to the Hoover Dam construction site in Nevada during the Great Depression hoping to find work and start their lives over. (Protagonists trying to start their lives over, Great Depression, romance, men/women relationships).

The House at Riverton: A Novel by Kate Morton – In 1924 a tragedy occurs at Riverton House and Grace the Hartford’s family maid is a witness to it. When a filmmaker who is working on a movie about the Hartford family contracts Grace, her long suppressed memories of the event come back and Grace, who is now ninety-eight, recounts through flashbacks what really happened. (Engrossing, story told through flashbacks, authentic recreation of an earlier period).

Relevant Non-fiction Works and Authors:

The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top by Janet M. Davis – Fascinating history and examination of the traveling railroad circuses at the turn of the century.

Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans by Eric Scigliano – Examines the relationships and connections between humans and elephants.

Lions & Tigers & Mares, Oh My! by Gay Louise Balliet –Humorous and touching stories about the daily life of a veterinarian in eastern Pennsylvania  who treats large and exotic animals from farms, exotic game parks, traveling circuses, and horse breeders.

Name: Maggie

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