Monday, November 19, 2007

Water For Elephants

I read Water For Elephants over the summer, but it was such a great book that I still feel the need to talk about it. When I heard the premise of the story, it didn't really sound like something that would interest me. A guy who runs off and joins the circus? But I was still intrigued because it is such an unusual story.

Jacob tells his tale in flashbacks. He is now 90 (or 93, he can't remember), living in a nursing home, and filling his days with the happy and horrific memories of his time in the circus when he was in his early twenties. At the beginning of the Depression, Jacob is in veteranary school getting very close to graduation when his parents are trageically killed. While he is lost in grief and wandering about wondering what to do with his life, he comes across the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By chance and confusion, he joins this circus. The story that follows is exciting and tragic all at once.

The portions of the story that took place in the present, with Jacob as an old man, were somewhat difficult for me to read. His wife had died, and his five children seem to have their own lives with not much time to fit their father into their schedules. His mind is as sharp as it was in his twenties, but his body is beginning to fail him. Sara Gruen gives Jacob a voice that instills compassion and tenderness on the reader.

The most beloved character, however unexpected, was Rosie the Elephant. Jacob becomes so fond of her, and, as the reader, I quickly came to love this misunderstood elephant. When she is first purchased for the circus, everyone thought Rosie was just stupid or stubborn. They soon come to find out that she only understands Polish! Jacob struggles with her trainer to keep her safe, and the more violent the trainer became, the more I hated his character. It is finally in the climax of Jacob's circus career that his life takes a strange twist and heads in a completely different direction.

That twist wasn't the only unexpected one. The 90 (or 93) year old Jacob has a surprise of his own. Read the book and you too will love the ending.