Review: Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen



 Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books (April 9, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1565125606
ISBN-13: 978-1565125605
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Jacob Jankowski – A young man, leaves Vet school and becomes a vet for a traveling circus.
August Rosenbluth – Head animal trainer for Benzini Brothers Circus
Marlena Rosenbluth – Perform in the Benzini Brothers Circus. She works with the animal acts.
Camel – An elderly disabled man, has drank too much bootleg liquor and it’s paid the toll on him.
Kinko – A dwarf clown with a penchant for pornography.
Rosie – An elephant and the biggest acquisition for the Benzini Brothers Circus.


A young man is on the verge of taking his final exams for college. His plans are interrupted and he finds himself on a circus train. He becomes the vet for the animals in the circus. All though is not fun and games under the bigtop, as he’ll discover.


Have you ever thought about running away to join the circus. I’m sure we all did as kids. What could look like more fun. Being around the animals, the clown cars. But in Sara Gruen’s novel, the circus isn’t all the magic it appears to be on the surface. If one looks below that surface, there can be a lot of dark ugliness.

The story revolves around Jacob Jankowski. The time period is during the depression in America. Recent events have found Jacob dropping out of Vet college, and wondering where his life was headed. His sense of helplessness ends up leading him to hop a train. The train happens to be owned by the Benzini Brothers Circus.

The story is told within two time periods. One is the modern time period where we set a 90 or 93 year old Jacob, then other time period is during the depression with a 20 year old Jacob. The story alternates between the two periods. The more recent time period presents a story that is sad. It’s sad because it’s very true to how we often forget the elderly in our society.

Rick: I liked the story. I really grew to care about the character of Jacob much more so in the book then I did in the movie (which my wife and I saw after reading the book). The scenes with him in the nursing home and how he struggles to maintain the life he knows is within him is very touching. The scenese flashing back to his younger days, and showing the circus in all it’s early glory really makes you want to join the circus, then seeing the darkness of it, makes you feel sad for the people involved. Given, it’s a work of fiction, but the author researched this book, a lot, and the impact of that shows in the rich contrasts she shows between the bright circus and the darkness that the people don’t see.

If you’ve ever dreamed of the Circus, or just like historical literature, then I’d say pick this up. While the movie was okay, the book I really liked. I’d recommend it over the movie, but then that’s almost always the case.

Aly: Great book is all I can say without giving it all away. I don’t have my hubby’s talent of providing just the right amount of information. No matter what, I would spill the beans.  All I can say is: Great book and I recommend it.

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3 Responses to “Review: Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen”

  1. Torah Cottrill Says:

    I was on the fence about reading this, having seen the trailer for the movie and thought it looked pretty lame. :)

  2. Emetine Warrior Says:

    I would read this book. Books are generally ‘better than the movie’ because we use our imaginations. Thanks for the post.

  3. Endtime Warrior Says:

    Come to think of it, I may have read this.