Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants (Photo credit: Djumbo)

The first time I started reading Water for Elephants, I put it down after about a dozen pages.  It didn’t grab me, so I stopped reading and went to something else.  Then I decided to give it another chance and quickly finished it.


The story in set in the 1931 and follows Jacob as he runs away from his life after a personal tragedy.  He jumps aboard a train bound for parts unknown.  Had this been a normal train, Jacob may have ridden for several hundred miles, jumped off, and found a job in a factory somewhere.  But this is no normal train – it’s a circus train.  After a rough introduction, Jacob’s training as a veterinarian lands him a job as the circus vet.  Jacob soon falls hard for the beautiful Marlena – who is, of course, married to a sadistically cruel man.

The book pulls back the tent flap and gives an interesting look into the life of the circus workers.   Not just the more glamorous lives of the performers (who are granted two buckets of water per day for washing!)  The working men often didn’t get paid, and at times would just be thrown from the moving train (redlighted).


The book’s characters are definitely very entertaining.  The love triangle of Jacob, Marlena, and August forms the backbone of the plot.  It’s very easy to cheer for Jacob and Marlena, even though Marlena is cheating on her husband.  (However, he’s jerk, so he had it coming).

The supporting case is also strong.  While the Jacob and Marlena are clear protagonists and August is the main antagonist, several of the other characters flip between roles; at some points helping Jacob and at other points hindering him.  The circus animals also play a large part in the book, notably Rosie the elephant.


One thing I enjoyed about the book was a very clever “gotcha”.  I enjoy being tricked by an author as long as it’s not something completely out of right field (such as a character presented as a human suddenly becoming the pet goldfish in the last scene).  In Water for Elephants, we are tricked, but the author is being completely fair.


I loved the book.  Those who are interested in circuses, life in the 1930s, or animals may enjoy the book.  Sara Gruen’s other books also have animals as a central focus.  Although I really enjoyed Water for Elephants, I’m not sure I’ll read her other books, as I don’t generally read animal books.



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