Book Review: Water For Elephants


The novel opens with a prologue from a young Jacob Jankowski, describing the one time disaster broke out in his beloved circus, wetting the reader’s appetite for the destruction to come later on. Although after doing this the next chapter is rather depressing and slow compared to the ideas of the prologue. Fast forward a good 50/60 years and Jacob is alone grumpy, old and starting to loose his mind a little in a nursing home where the only good thing is a sweet nurse and the fact that the circus is finally coming to town possibly for the last time Jacob will ever see it (throughout the novel we are forced back and forward, which to some could be seen as slightly depressing)

After the excitement regarding the circus Jacob is forced to sit alone after an argument with a fellow resident claiming he ‘carried water for the elephants’, but going back to his youth Jacob knows this is a lie after all he was the vet on one of the ‘greatest circus’ on earth’. This sets the tone for the whole novel, as the reader is constantly drawn to and from the past which in a way makes this a story of triumph tinged with sadness throughout, as we know how it ends with Jacob waiting for his children, waiting to get back a piece of his life and true love, Marlena.

Young Jacob is a student with dreams of being a vet and getting that one girl to sleep with him, although in one day his whole life,happiness and studies are destroyed by the sudden death of his parents. Going home he learnt he has lost everything he thought he had. His father has been in crippling debt just so that Jacob had the education he needs. Alone, heartbroken and penniless Jacob has no way of going back to college and no job prospects Jacob decides to take a risk. He’s manages to wing his way onto the circus as the circus vet.

Although beware! Do not expect this novel to be all glitter, spangles and performing monkeys, Gruen’s tale will break your heart. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth may be spectacular but in more ways than you can imagine adultery, prostitution, murder,lies,secrets and of course romance. From the very beginning Jacob is hooked on the beautiful Marlena a horse entertainer,she is truly the beauty and the heart of the circus especially with dreams of performing with the ‘dumb elephant’  Rosie,that the circus has just acquired. However there is a catch, despite Jacob’s love  for Marlena and the animals, he must work over the watchful and evil ring master, August, who is also coinsidently Marlena’s husband. Yes it is obvious he has reached a problem.

Although through the help of friends he aquires along the way (although let me tell you he starts off as the lowest of the low with a lot to learn) Jacob begins his battle to save Marlena from her abusive husband and finally teach Rosie in a way that nobody else could. It has been said that the real hero of this story is not Jacob at all, that the real hero is Rosie (for later events that I won’t spoil now), a beautiful creature who is not as ‘stupid’  that people are lead to believe. However with a bit of a psycho at the head of it all, it’s obvious that life and love will not run smoothly.

Gruen has done a beautiful job with description, it is simple to image everything you read. To see Marlena’s acts and Rosie’s beauty while feeling Jacob’s pain. The reader is transported to another time and another world the smells, the feelings, everything. The only criticism I can give is when it goes back to old Jacob, yes it’s vital and there for a reason but it does get dull and you do want to skip it, however this said once finished I put down my book and discovered it was one of the best books I have ever read.

I give this beauty 5 stars *****. For the nearly flawless storytelling and an amazing plot line! I will forever be disappointed by the circus from now on.

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