April 15, 2008

Book Club: Water for Elephants

A brief description of Water for Elephants: Set during the Great Depression of the 1930's, Water for Elephants tells the story of a young man who leaves his life as a Cornell University veterinary student and jumps onto a train that happens to house the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. After a short confrontation with Blackie, a bouncer that stops stowaways, and Camel (a limp old worker) promising him a job and an audience with Uncle Al (The Ringmaster) Jacob decides to stay aboard the train. Jacob is employed as the show’s veterinarian and he faces a number of challenges in dealing with the head trainer, August, while also learning how to function in the hierarchy of the circus and falling in love with August's wife, Marlena. The story is told as a series of memories from Jacob, who is in a nursing home and reminisces about his time with the circus.

Overall I liked the book. The characters were likable and the description of the circus and life in the 1930's was very interesting and well written. Gruen bases a lot of the circus moments on true stories that she uncovered while doing her research. I had a problem reading the parts were the animals were mistreated. While the abuse is never fully depicted in the book, just eluded to, the thought of it gave me knots in the pit of my stomach.

Grade: I would give it a B-. (did I grade the other book?) I wouldn't have selected this book on my own (as the back cover description does not do it justice) and I did find it a bit slow. And they never really say straight out what the term Water for Elephants means. Even Wikipedia is vague about it.

Final word: My favorite part was the ending, but I'm not about to give it away!!

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