It’s hard to find a book that is both historically accurate and interesting at the same time. There is a couple out there that I have read a few times and would recommend to anyone, even if they don’t like to read. One of those novels is ‘Water for Elephants’ by Sara Gruen, which switches between the voice of the past and present main character, Jacob Jankowski. The book mostly focuses on Jacob during the Great Depression trying to make it in the world.
Reading ‘Water for Elephants’ is like making a new friend that you know you will be with forever. After finishing this book you get this melancholy feeling, the ending is a happy one, but at the same time you feel unsatisfied. You are happy that Jacob is happy, but you want more. You want to read more about him and continue hearing his story after the book ends.
When you first meet the main character Jacob Jankowski, he is days away from graduating from Cornell University with a degree in veterinary sciences and exploring a burgeoning love with one of his fellow classmates. All of that changes the day of his final exam, when Jacob’s parents are killed in a car accident.
Drowning in grief, a broke Jacob starts to walk, and he doesn’t stop. He decides to walk to a new city, find a job, and get a fresh start. As he walks down the train tracks he hears a train and decides to jump on, not knowing that he is about to enter a wild and colorful new world. The train Jacob has jumped onto is the train of the Benzini Brothers Circus, where he is given the job of the circus vet by the head trainer, August, despite his failure to complete his final exam.
Jacob’s new life is a whirlwind of magical acts, toothless lions, beautiful women (for him a very beautiful forbidden woman), and a mischievous and stubborn elephant. Although he has the perfect job and an amazing paycheck, he can’t help but feel unsatisfied as he can’t have what he wants the most, the brutal head trainer’s wife, Marlena.
Throughout the book Jacob struggles with his need for Marlena and protecting the circus animals from August’s violent schizophrenic outbursts.
Shortly after Jacob jumps the The Benzini Brothers train, they acquire an elephant from a bankrupt circus. So not only did they gain an Ivy League vet, but also an elephant, which is circus gold. Unlike Jacob’s silent rebellion against August, Rosie blatantly disobeys her trainers and always drinks the lemonade. Jacob and Rosie end up having something special in common and they create a bond that is unbreakable.
The thing that I loved most about ‘Water for Elephants’ was the many different varieties of characters. There was charismatic, but evil August, the beautiful, mysterious and secretly sad Marlena, drunk and hopeless Camel, the grumpy, but on the inside soft Walter and his dog Queenie, and Jacob, the depressed, love-stricken twenty-three year old trying to find his way in life.
‘Water for Elephants’ was a heartbreaking, hilarious, and insightful book. Sara Gruen give the reader an inside look into the hard life of being in a circus during the Great Depression. I felt everything the characters were feeling and I actually felt like I was there watching everything happen.
This is a book that will keep you up all night until you finish it, and when you do you will want to read it again. I know I did, I just finished reading it for the second time and I can’t wait to read it again.
‘Water for Elephants’ was also adapted into a film and stars Robert Pattinson as Jacob, Reese Witherspoon as Marlena, and Christoph Waltz as August. My advice is to read the book before watching the movie because nothing can compare.