Friday, October 23, 2009

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

"Gritty, sensual and charged with dark secrets involving love, murder and a majestic, mute heroine." --Parade
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Have you been to the circus? You've not seen it like this. Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants takes us behind the tent flaps of a fictional 1931 circus, as experienced by protagonist Jacob Jankowski.
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It's from his reluctant place in life as a nonagenarian that Jacob relives, in dreams, his youthful days as veterinarian to a menagerie of show animals. But the horses, the lions and chimps, they aren't the only cast of characters in Gruen's novel. We read, too, of the performers and sideshow freaks, the laborers and the seedy frontmen -- and the sickening existence that surrounded them all. Still, if it hadn't been for that existence, and how it came to define him, Jacob would have had nothing.
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Through heartache, error in judgment and moral disappointment, Jacob remained ever the hero. After loss, deception, near destruction, he found purpose and redemption. Happiness.
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Parts were difficult to read, because of content and implication. But this fiction does what fiction can do so well: It takes us to the depths and darkness of the human condition, makes us feel it like it's hurting for real... just before shining the bright light of goodness.
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I was particularly interested in this book because, like Jacob Jankowski, the main character of my current WIP is of an advanced age. And I wondered, how does that play out on the page? Can it be unforced and endearing, something that doesn't distract from the story?
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Turns out it can be quite good. Especially if you throw in a scene-stealing elephant.
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Thanks to Melanie Avila, for the recommendation of Water for Elephants. And thanks to Tess Hilmo, for the Amazon gift card that paid for the paperback.

28 comments:

Angie Ledbetter said...

Glad you enjoyed the book. It's on my TBR book, waiting on the bedside table. :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Scene stealing elephant--now that's a big scene stealer!!

I don't know that I could handle such an emotional roller coaster, though. I'm such an animal lover, that I've come to hate circus, fearing what they do to them to get them to bow to their will. So sad, I'm sure.

Rebecca Nazar said...

The book looks fantastic. I'm a very picky reader, so it's nice to have a strong recommendation from a dear blogger friend.

Thanks for checking up on me. All is fine, if a bit hectic with soccer season and such.

Amy said...

I enjoyed this book as well. Some of the women in my book club didn't appreciate the flashbacks/reminiscing parts, but they worked for me. Also, without giving anything away, what did you think of the ending??

Linda said...

I read this book one hot summer day last year. I couldn't put it down, and that suprised me! Glad you enjoyed it as well!

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I just wrote on Rachelle Gardner's comments, how I went on and on about how I loved the beginning in my post and the next day I read about the strip scene. :D

It is such a good book. I want to stretch my day, like a pair of granny's underwear so I have more time to read it!
~ Wendy

lakeviewer said...

I have heard good things about the book. It is on my list.

Jessica said...

It sounds like such a wonderful book! Thank you for sharing. :-)

Janna Qualman said...

Angie - It's fast paced, you might be able to whip through it!

Eileen - It'd definitely be a tough read for you, then.

Becca - I think parts of it are right up your alley! Such great characters.

Amy - I was surprised. And thought it bittersweet, but it made sense. You?

Linda - I was the same way!

Wendy - I wondered what you thought of those parts. They are sections of what I had trouble reading. In the end, though, it didn't take from the story. You haven't finished yet?

lakeviewer - I hope you enjoy it!

Jessica - You're welcome. :)

Barbara said...

I loved this book, too. The old man's parts bothered me at first, but as I kept reading, they made absolute sense and she did it so well. I loved the whole thing. Glad you had fun with it.

Tamika: said...

I have heard wonderful things about this book. Looking forward to picking it up one day soon.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Melanie Avila said...

Janna, great review. I read it almost a year ago and this brought me right back into the story. I agree that some parts were really hard to read, but it was true to the story, you know? I doubt she just made that stuff up.

I was also surprised by the ending, but it made sense.

Also, I'd forgotten that I'd recommended this to you, but now I remember that conversation -- when you talked about having an older protagonist. I'm glad you liked it!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Sounds good! Have you ever read "Embrace Me" by Lisa Samson? It deals with a traveling show in the this era... has an incredible depiction of the modern day Church.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Sounds like a good read. It's been a long time since I've been to a circus.

JLC said...

Sounds like an interesting book. I like the original idea - a circus in the 30s. Neat!

T. Anne said...

I read it a while back. I enjoyed it but was surprised at its runaway success.

Susan R. Mills said...

It looks very interesting. I'll add it to my list!

Karen said...

I read this, too. Always think of circus and their people in a different light. And circus history, too. That book was intriguing. Good review.

Lori said...

I have been hearing so much about this book. I might just have to read it. You make a compelling review.

Deb Shucka said...

This is one of my all time favorite books. I loved the older protagonist - even though I didn't always like him, I was connected to him throughout the story. And the elephant - she stole the story. I enjoyed reading your reflections on it. Hope to be able to reflect on your work one day. :-)

The Unbreakable Child said...

This book isd on my to buy list. Happy to see you enjoyed it!

Nadine said...

I loved this book - thought it was a terrific story! I still have a question about the meaning of the title though - does no one carry water for elephants?

Kathy said...

Wow. You've described a very interesting story and I think I will read this book.

Sounds very different from what's out there. Thanks for the recommendation!

Kathy said...

I picked it up at the library today and will start reading it tonight.

And just to show my age, I chose the large print edition. Much easier on the eyes!

Janna Qualman said...

Barbara - I agree. I think it made him more real, and more the hero in the end.

Tamika - I hope you like it.

Melanie - Absolutely. Thanks, again!

Kristen, I haven't, but that sounds interesting. I'll check it out!

Deb - This made me want to go again.

JLC - I think the author definitely came up with a unique idea.

T. Anne - It's gotten quite a bit of buzz, I think. Have you read anything else of hers?

Susan - Let me know what you think.

Thanks, Karen. It was so neat to read from an unknown view, wasn't it?

Lori - I hope you like it!

Deb - I so agree. She was so special! And I hope the same thing for the future. Very much! :)

Kimmi - I bet you'd like it!

Nadine - Oh, I'm sorry! I never addressed that. I don't know what it was meant to imply. I do remember Jacob was upset when the other man claimed to have carried water for elephants as a boy, and I think we're to have gauged no one knew better than Jacob how likely it was for such a thing to have happened. I wonder if the question has ever been posed to the author. Maybe we could find it online.

Kathy - Great! I found it a quick read (except for some of the circus minutae), and you'll have to let us know if you like it.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I just finished this book a week or two ago and thoroughly enjoyed it!

colbymarshall said...

"Scene stealing elephant"...giggle...wonder if a secene stealing hippo would be equally helpful? ;-) You know I love the hippos

Janna Qualman said...

Kat - I'm curious about her other writing. She seems to have her own niche.

Colby - Hey, if you want to write about a hippo, then you write about a hippo. ;)