Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

Just finished this book last night. It was wonderful. I read it in 3 days because I couldn't put it down. It's one of those books where you are sad it's over because you miss the characters. Now, I will warn you this is not exactly a G-rated book...

Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob's life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances of circus life during prohibition. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused and the people are even worse. Jacob is a 21 year old recently orphanned veterinary student at Cornell. When a car accident simultaneously kills his parents he is unable to sit for his exams and runs off with the circus. Once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the "menagerie" and all its ills. He also becomes the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and... he falls in love along the way.

The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch.

I am not usually a fan of gore or depressing situations, but this book reeled me in from the beginning and I would recommend it to anyone that wouldn't be offended by a touch of "reality".

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Wanna hear something crazy? I took a whole course on PT Barnum my last year of college... That book sounds really cool (I'm not a big fan of the circus but Barnum was a brilliant publicist).