Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Author: Sherry Helms

Water for Elephants will make you fall in love with the very interesting and well developed characters of the novel. It offers a well- researched glimpse into the circus life during the Great Depression. The pages of the novel are burst with rich descriptions and action. Readers will be drawn into the world of ringmasters, elephants and sideshows. They will also experience the world of nursing homes and old age.

As the novel begins Jacob is an old man in an assisted living home. His memories are sparked by a nearby visiting church and a creeping helplessness that assaults his aging body. As the older Jacob fights to survive the indignities of old age, he recounts the story of his life with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular show on Earth. After his parent’s untimely death in a car accident, the 23 year old grief stricken Jacob robbed of home and future jumped onto a passing train and entered a world of freaks, drifters, misfits and a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression. Jacob hires on to the care for the show’s menagerie as he was a veterinary student who had almost earned his degree.

The novel addresses the often unscrupulous practices of a traveling circus, the rowdy atmosphere and the antiseptic corridors of the assisted living home. Readers view all this through Jacob’s perspective as he rages helplessly against the decrepitude of old age and the secrets of the past.

Gruen researched circuses and animal behavior extensively before writing this book. Her careful work manifests itself in writing that is descriptive and easy to read.

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