Author: Sara Gruen, 2006.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1930s USA Depression. Animals. Circus. Romance.
Other Details: Paperback. 429 pages.
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 travelling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. - synopsis from Sara Gruen's website.
I came to this novel, the July selection for one of my reading groups, with some trepidation given its circus theme and Depression time period as I expected that cruelty to animals was bound to take place. It did and while these scenes were difficult for me to read (and I expect for Sara Gruen to write given her own love of animals) they were integral to the plot. They also served to give a strong contrast between various characters; those who treated the animals with respect and those who were happy to brutalize them. These attitudes also carried over to their various dealings with their fellow man.
From its opening I found this a highly engaging read in both its contemporary and period settings. I felt that Sara Gruen had done a sterling job in terms of her research into circuses of the period, some details of which are given in her afterword and the interview included in my edition of the novel.
So from a nervous start about content I ended up loving this novel without reservations and was very pleased that it it had been selected. It proved very popular with everyone in the group as well.
Sara Gruen's page on 'Water for Elephants' - includes reading guide, excerpt and trailer for the 2011 film adaptation.
Note: Here I am 7 months into the year and 2/3 of my 150 book challenge completed. I have now upped my goal this year to 175 books.