Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, swindlers and misfits in a second-rate circus struggling to survive. 

A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that Jacob meets Marlena, the beautiful equestrienne who is married to August, a charismatic but violently unpredictable animal trainer. Jacob also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems unmanageable until he discovers an unusual way to reach her. 

Genre: Fiction, Historical Romance
Year: 2006
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Rating: 5/5

Water for Elephants is one of those books that grabs your attention from the first page and does not let go. Full of vibrant characters, animals that prove to be more 'human' than some of the so-called humans around them, and a depiction of the travelling life of circus-folk, that is less than pleasant, this novel is hard to put down. 

This novel is told from the point of view of Jacob, who is ninety (or maybe ninety-three) and is an unhappy resident of a nursing home. He is reminiscing on his time spent working for a circus, when he was in his twenties. 

Looking back, the story follows Jacob as he tries to find his place in a world that no longer feels like home. Wandering aimlessly, Jacob jumps a train on impulse, that just happens to belonging to the Benzini Brothers Circus. The circus is run by abusive Uncle Al, who takes Jacob on because he has veterinary skills. 

Here Jacob meets a cast of characters that change his life in ways he never imagined. From Marlena, who steals Jacob's heart; to the unpredictable and violent August; the intelligent and gentle Rosie; the hostile yet kind circus midget, Walter; and the drunkard Camel, the characters in this book came alive on the pages and I found myself thinking about them for a long time after I put the novel down. 

I was disappointed when Water for Elephants was over. This novel was touching... it was lovely... it was sad and dramatic and exciting.. this novel was exactly what a novel should be. There were times I found myself laughing, others I was shocked and felt sad for the characters... sometimes, I just felt mad. There were so many emotions involved in this book.. in this simple, yet fascinating story. 

If I tried to sum this story up in a few sentences, I would have to say it is about a group of people and their lives, albeit different lives, as they travelled in the circus and try their best to get by... funny thing is, even though they are in the circus, I didn't feel they were any weirder than "normal" folk, or that their goals, hopes and dreams were all that different.

This novel is a must read as it certainly is a treat. 

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