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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Unabridged, 11 hr. 31 min.
Highbridge Audio
David LeDoux, John Randolph Jones (narrators)
May 24, 2006

Genre: Historical Fiction, Audiobook

Source: Borrowed paperback from boyfriend’s mom; audiobook from library

"As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival."
So great I read it twice – and am reviewing both versions at once!

Jacob is in the last weeks of veterinary school at Cornell when he is hit with a massive shock: the death of both of his beloved parents, and more importantly the loss of everything he owns to the bank. This is the throws of the Depression. He does what every man would do in his situation, hops a train to anywhere only to find out it is the circus train of The Benzini Bros. Greatest Show on Earth! As the show’s veterinarian he forms a close relationship with crazy August (the equestrian trainer), his wife Marlena (a performer), and Rosie (the elephant). As the days go on, life on the circus gets crazier and crazier, until one day all hell breaks loose. What will Jacob do next?

Gruen does an amazing job of researching the life of circus workers during the Depression. At no time did I feel that the details were out of place. You could feel the desperation of the roustabouts when they were continually not paid, resorted to drinking bootleg liquor, ran out of food. Reading this book was like stepping back in time.

I loved this book! It is easily very near the top of my favorite books list. According to the author's website Fox 2000 has purchased the rights to this book to make a movie and hear rumor that Reese Witherspoon might be cast as Marlena. I think it would make a fantastic movie.

Author Sara Gruen also has written several other novels including: Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes.  You can visit Gruen's website for additional information about the book.  If you would like to preview the story before reading it, you can read the prologue here.


This book is narrated by two voices – that of the 90 something year old Jacob (retelling the events as he remembers them) and that of the 20 something year old Jacob (experiencing the events). The audiobook did an amazing job of casting two narrators and it made it one of the best books I have listened too. You were easily able to tell at what time you were by who was narrating and it made it feel so real.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2009 by The Maiden’s Court

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great review! I've had this book on my TBR list for a couple of years now, I just never got around to it yet. I suppose I'd better read it before the movie comes out :)


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