Saturday, May 31, 2008

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
# pages: 331
Date published: 2006
Genre: Historical fiction
Challenge(s): Spring Reading Thing 2008, The Book Awards Reading Challenge (2007 Alex Award winner)


(highly recommended)

Setting: The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth traveling circus during Prohibition and Depression-era America

First Few Sentences:

“I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.”

Synopsis: Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, the almost-veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers traveling circus. The story, told by Jacob through a series of flashbacks from his current life, forgotten and bored-to-tears, in a nursing home, explains how he came to join the circus, vividly depicts the not-so-spectacular life of the roustabouts, performers, and menagerie animals aboard the circus train, and tells of how he fell in love—with woman and beast—with sometimes wonderful and sometimes devastating consequences.

Reason for Reading: St. Pete book club’s June 2008 pick

Random Thoughts:

  • I really enjoyed learning that many of the scenes in the book actually happened (or were composites of several different circus stories that Gruen read or heard during her research for the book).
  • Some might find the ending a bit of a stretch, but I loved it ;>). It was sweet.
  • Water for Elephants was selected as one of the 10 books in 2007 to receive an Alex Award. The Alex Awards are given by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), to recognize adult books that will appeal to teen readers.
  • Interview with Sara Gruen

Favorite passages:

“How is it that everyone on this train has so much alcohol?”

“We always head to Canada at the beginning of the season,” she says, taking her seat again. “Their laws are much more civilized. Cheers,” she says, holding out her glass.

I touch mine to hers and take a sip. It’s a cold, clean lager. Magnificent. “Don’t the border guards check?”

“We put the booze in with the camels,” she says.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” I say.

“Camels spit.” (p. 92)

Older Jacob (p.111):

I push the porridge aside and open my vanity mirror. I should know better by now, but somehow I still expect to see myself. Instead, I find an Appalachian apple doll…

If you've reviewed this book (or a book by this author), leave me a link to your review in the comments and I'll link to your review, too!

Also reviewed at: Maw Books, Reading Adventures, Trish’s Reading Nook, Thoughts of Joy, The Written Word, Caribousmom, The Thin Red Line, Paradise Alley, Girls Just Reading, Care’s Online Book Club, Teddy Rose, She Treads Softly, B My Life My Thoughts, The Hook Line and Stinker, The Sleepy Reader, A Patchwork of Books, Library & Literary Miscellany, One Minute Book Reviews, A Garden Carried in the Pocket, Overdue Books, Baby Got Books, In the Pages, Book Haven, Devourer of Books, The Inside Cover, Devourer of Books, Book Lovers Get Your English On, The Magic Lasso, Some Reads, The 3 R’s, Book Club Classics, Age 30 - A Year of Books, My Year of Reading Seriously,


kristen said...

I also reviewed this novel:

and wasn't quite as complimentary (at least regarding the ending).

Enjoyed your review, though! You should check out Gruen's other works (especially if you like horses).

Kristi said...

Thanks for leaving a link to your review, Kristen! I'm sure my book club will have a lot to say about the ending as well ;>).

I agree with you that Water for Elephants is an interesting and entertaining read, but it is not likely to be one of those life-changing novels for me either. However, Gruen did peak my interest in the circus. I live about 30 minutes north of the Ringling Brothers museum in Sarasota, FL (where many of the pictures at the chapter beginnings in Water for Elephants came from) and I'm planning to visit this Tuesday (it's my birthday and I have the day off ;>)). There's also an independent bookstore there called Circle Books that I've heard a lot about. Can't wait!

Thanks for the recommendation on Gruen's other books, too. I've put Riding Lessons on my TBR list!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kristi,
Did you see the blurb in the front of the novel from Susan Cheever, who said that "Water for Elephants" is a book about what animals can teach people about love?

I would describe its theme differently. But that quote could be a good jumping-off point for discussion, because clubs can ask: If that's not what the novel is "about," what is it about?

Thanks so much for the link, too.

Kristi said... copy of the book doesn't have that quote on the cover. After some exhaustive research I finally found it on the 4th page of quotes from various critics which, I have to admit, I didn't read ;>).

Really enjoyed your review. I'd like to bring up some of the questions in your Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide for this book at my next book club meeting, if that's okay? It should make for a lively discussion ;>P.

Anonymous said...

This book is a big hit with my 'silver' club - all the readers at the nursing home I go visit. I like how you listed passages you like. This book is actually improving in my head from when I read it - I think I may have been somewhat critical in my blog review but am finding myself telling others that I enjoyed it!

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I reviewed this too! Here's the link.

Maw Books said...

Thanks for linking over. I can take a wild guess where you came up with those links! :) I laughed out loud at the ending of this book. I thought it was perfect. I have a hard time recommending it though. Many of the scenes made me uncomfortable.

Kristi said...

Thanks for leaving your link, Heather.

Maw Books - I'm sure your right ;>). Your site is a great resource for finding other bloggers reviews. Thanks for keeping up with it! I go there all the time.