Author: Sara Gruen
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publish Date: May 1st, 2007
Genres: Adult, Fiction
Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.
By morning, he’s landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he’s in love.
In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all…
I haven’t been this entranced and rendered utterly speechless by a novel since reading the Harry Potter series. I also haven’t been able to stop grinning like a complete fool. Coincidence? I think not. Water for Elephants definitely earned its title as my favorite read of 2016, and it’s currently one of my favorite reads of all time. Something tells me it won’t be demoted anytime soon.
Water for Elephants paints an entirely new perspective of an albeit depression era circus, exposing the harsh conditions and pervasive poverty associated with nomadic life, as well as the inevitable rivalries and hostilities between performers. I admired the novel’s honesty and realistic portrayal – nothing was sugarcoated, and it addressed a conglomerate of difficult issues that are merely brushed under the rug in most comparable literary works. Plus, THERE ARE ELEPHANTS. You can never go wrong with elephants.
I was immediately intrigued by the prologue, which was characterized by sheer confusion for both the characters and readers, hinting at a suspicious death. As if the novel hadn’t already won me over, the circular narrative concludes with the same scene, providing clarity and detail that had been intentionally excluded from the introductory chapter. While I had my suspicions about the obscure events that unfolded in the introductory scene, they weren’t confirmed until the final pages of the book, keeping me on my toes and causing me to constantly second guess my predictions.
I loved the dynamic that was established by the two juxtaposed narratives – that of Jacob’s early life in the circus and that of his time in the nursing home. Both were equally bittersweet, paralleling a complicated, multi-faceted romance with a refusal to acknowledge the gradual physical and mental decline associated with age. Sorrow, disappointment, and difficult circumstances seemed to follow Jacob like the plague, and it was impossible not to pity him. Needless to say, there was no happy ending. Or tears of joy. But there were many, many tears.
August evoked the most conflicted emotions from me: I hated his character on account of several disagreeable words/choices/decisions, but I simultaneously couldn’t resist falling in love with his erratic mood swings that I can only characterize as manic depression. He was one of the most intriguing characters because his motives and aspirations were never fully revealed, remaining shrouded in mystery and raising quite a few eyebrows along the way. Despite his love of manipulative mind games and harassing the protagonist, August brought a new definition to complex characters with dark pasts, and Gruen did a spectacular job shattering the stereotypes associated with this persona.
While the blatant omission of anyone carrying water for an elephant (a feat which the novel deems impossible due to the sheer volume the animals consume daily) was mildly disappointing, I adored the writing style, plot, and characters. While romance remained on the back burner for the majority of the novel, it allowed readers to focus on the underlying themes. Not only was the novel entertaining and utterly captivating, the writing itself was remarkable, reminiscent of a literary classic.
|Plot & Premise|