On the brink of graduating veterinary school at Cornell, Jacob Jankowski’s life is turned upside down by the sudden death of his parents. He is suddenly in charge of his own future, and must make his own way during the Great Depression. He would never have guessed that by hopping on a train, he would be transported to a whole new world. Jacob soon finds himself a part of the traveling “Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth” taking care of the animals of the show. Jacob finds himself working under a violent man named August, and begins falling in love with August’s wife Marlene. Jacob’s life gets more dangerous with every turn of the train, and he must fight for himself and those he cares about in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.
I thoroughly enjoyed Water for Elephants for many reasons. I thought the use of Jacob’s two perspectives gave a nice view of the impact of the circus on Jacob later in life. It creates a second level of Jacob that readers get to enjoy, and it presents a creative way to explain parts of Jacob’s life after the main story. All of the characters were well developed. Their fears become the reader’s fears, and we get sucked into this crazy world of animals and performers by the characters. I fell in love with many of them (and in hate with others). I also believe this to be an accurate description of what a circus would be like in the Great Depression; struggling and full of less than innocent people. Gruen develops a creative storyline where readers can get swept into a fast paced world they won’t want to leave.
Summary: A thrilling tale of love, lust, and the hard workers of the 1930’s is shown in “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen. A man by the name of Jacob Jankowski, well into his ninety’s, is sent into a flashback the when his life turned upside down in the year 1931. An intellectual young man from a good family was given horrific troubles at the age of twenty-three when his parents dramatically passed away in a car crash sending him into deep debt. Jacob then sold everything, quit his studies at Cornell and ran away into the woods when he stumbled across a circus train on the move. With nothing to lose, he hopped aboard the train and found himself a home as the circus veterinarian. Jacob then found himself falling in love with the boss’s wife, Marlena. Forbidden love finds itself wedged in this legend of a story where emotion can only hope to be controlled or else everyone could find themselves suffering.
Evaluation: There is a soul in this story like no other. A rollercoaster of emotions will leave you on the verge of tears, wanting to rip the pages out but unable to stop intently grazing the page. Sara Gruen is an incredibly talented author. All of her books deserve the upmost respect.
Rating: 5 stars
Recommendations: Romeo and Juliet, Night, and Flowers in the Attic
Summary: Water for Elephants was written by Sara Gruen and is Historical-Fiction. A young man by the name of Jacob Jankowski is going to College at Cornell during the Great Depression time period. But his life changes forever when his parents die in a car accident, and he is left with nothing. He then decides to quit college and jump on a train heading out of town. The train ends up being a Circus, “The Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.” He ends becoming the head veterinarian, because he studied to become a veterinarian at college, and then he falls in love with a married woman on the show. The story is flashbacks had by Jacob when he is 90 something, living in a retirement home, and how he remembers carrying the water for the elephants.
Evaluation: This is a great book if you are looking for something mature and more dramatic. It’s definitely a book that should be saved for high school in some of the themes and content, but it has a good storyline that gets you hooked, and you want to keep reading all night.
Summary: Water for Elephants , by Sara Gruen, is about a circus trying to make it during the prohibition and great depression. The theme that stood out most to me in the novel was how you should always stand up for what you believe in and stick to your friends. Even when the characters had nothing left towards the end of the novel, by staying together and fighting to protect Rosie, the elephant, they made their own happy ending.
The book begins with Jacob Jankowski, an Ivy League student who is about to take his final veterinary exams. During his exam, school officials bring him dismal news: both of his Polish American parents were killed in a car crash. In his depression, he leaves the school, almost an official veterinarian, and he jumps a train. The plot twist: the train turns out to be a circus train! Instead of getting red lighted (thrown off the train onto the railroad rocks) some of the other workers convince the circus master, August, to hire Jacob because he could be useful as a veterinarian. From the beginning, it is clear that August is a touch bipolar, swinging from murderous moods to insanely happy within short spans of time. Jacob works with the Benzini Bro’s circus and meets Marlena, Augusts’ young wife. Together, the two of them train the circus’s elephant, Rosie. August often beats Rosie because he things the elephant is stupid, but really it’s because Rosie was trained by a Polish trainer. Jacob, being Polish, is able to talk to her and train her. The three of them, Jacob, Marlena, and Rosie form a bond that can’t be broken by Augusts’ manipulation. (SPOILER ALERT – Stop reading here!?)
The circus strives to be magnificent for the audience, while on the inside everything is falling apart. August is abusive to Marlena, Jake the circus worker gets this paralysis from drinking prohibited alcohol from South America, and the midget circus performers get red lighted (thrown off the train) when August can’t afford to pay them anymore. The final disaster is when the circus animals are released during Marlena and Rosie’s performance. August, the antagonist, is conveniently trampled by Rosie. Marlena and Jacob run away together, bringing Marlena’s team of horses and Rosie with them. Even though they had nothing and it was the great depression, they still held onto each other (and the circus animals that they had trained).
Evaluation: Water for Elephants is about relationships between people and animals. There were many variables that affected the budding romance between Marlene and Jacob. Also, there was the loyalty Rosie demonstrated for Jacob, who was the first person to treat her humanely. Another bond was that of the midget, Walter and Uncle Al. Even when the two workers got red lighted, there was a part of the book about how they stayed together, one man paralyzed and one bleeding his life out, until they died. It just showed how dedicated they were to each other. Even when the Benzini Bro’s circus went belly up because of the escaped animal’s disaster, Marlena and Jacob and Rosie held onto each other.
I liked how the book was written from Jacobs’ perspective. It was kind of like a memoir, except the story skipped around sometimes which makes it more of a historical novel. This book gives a rare glimpse of what happens behind the smoke and mirrors of a circus performance. There’s always something happening in the circus.
Rating: 4 stars
Recommendations: Les Miserables, Sacré Bleu, Harry Potter Series.
Summary: Water for Elephants , by Sara Gruen, is told from the view of Jacob Jankowski, an old man living in a retirement home. Jacob tells the story of his previous life working with the circus. Jacob is training to become a veterinarian, but after hearing of his parents’ tragic death, his life changes. Being lost, Jacob hops on a train that turns out to be a circus train. They find that they’re in need of a vet and keep Jacob to help with the animals. After putting one of the main horses down, the circus adopts the newest member: Rosie, an elephant. Jacob meets many new strange people and goes through many struggles along the way. As Jacob tells his previous life story, many new things happen while at his retirement home.
Evaluation: This is a very interesting book, that once you start reading you won’t want to put it down. This is a great book if you’re interested in animals or enjoy adventure books. This book leaves you with many emotions, ranging from serious to humorous, and really draws you in.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Recommendations: The Hunger Games, Between Shades of Grey, The Art of Racing in the Rain
Summary: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a historical fiction book told by a man named Jacob Jankowski. Told during the early part of the great depression, Jacob once worked in a circus called the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. But now he’s ninety and lives in a retirement home with, in his opinion, a bunch of annoying old people who lie about giving water to elephants. A circus setting up across the street from the retirement home brings him flashbacks and dreams about his life in the circus. Starting out as a veterinary student close to a degree, he leaves his life and jumps aboard a train that just happens to be a traveling circus. They discover that he went to school as a vet and put him in charge of the circus menagerie. There he met Marlena, the beautiful star married to August, the twisted animal trainer. And then he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the hope for this third-rate traveling show. Marlena, Jacob, and Rosie grew very close. They loved and trusted one another. But then things changed for the worst, and their lives changed forever.
Evaluation: This book was centered around Jacob’s relationship with the elephant, but also Marlena. Because it was mostly a love story between the three of them. I loved the deep connection all three of them had. I also enjoyed the change of events that made the book exciting. There was always something interesting going on in the circus. The other part that I liked was that Gruen didn’t make it the sterotypical happy circus filled with smiling people holding cotton candy and bright colors. The circus was dark and more dangerous. The people were mean and harsh. Life in the circus wasn’t a kid’s dream. It was cruel and tough, and I liked that. She described it as something you wouldn’t typically think of when you hear the word circus.
Summary: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is told from the perspective of an old man in a retirement home, named Jacob Jankowski, who is very upset with his situation. Another man in this retirement home starts talking about a circus, which brings back Jacob’s memories. He flashes back to the depression-era, where he was about to graduate college and be a veterinarian, like his father, until both of his parent’s untimely death. Traumatized, he hops a circus train and runs away, ultimately is accepted by the ringleader, Uncle Al, and he becomes the circus’s veterinarian. He bonds with the elephant and an old drunk named Camel, as well as his roommate and dwarf friend Walter.
Summary: In this historical fiction book a man named Jacob Jankowski’s life is completly turned around once the devastating news of his parents’ death is announced. He just one day gets up, jumps a train, leaves, and finds himself on a circus train. He is also a veternarian, and the circus or “Uncle Al” takes him in. Jacob ends up up falling in love with the wife of an evil man. He goes through a lot involving love, affairs, fights, and the wanted death of some men. He ends up have a strong relationship with an elephant first considered dumb but end up finding out she only understands Polish, which he can also speak. He trains her and follows many problems and meeting a lot of different strange people along the way. While this part of his life is being told, a much later part of his life is being told as well when he is in his nineties.
Evaluation: This is a very entertaining book that keeps you wanting to read it and not wanting to stop. There is a lot of suspense that keeps you guessing the whole time with the conflicted relationships and the close friendships he had during this time, that did not end so well. This is a serious but emotional story with a bit of humor added in. Overall this book was extremely good.
Summary: Water for Elephants is a historical novel by Sara Gruen. The major themes explored in this novel include circus life during the depression, the testing of a man’s moral compass, self worth, mental illnesses, acting on emotions, illusion vs. reality, and “love triangles”.
The story is told as a series of memories by Jacob Jankowski, a ninety-three year-old man who lives in a nursing home. Jacob is told what to eat and what to do.
As the memories begin, Jacob Jankowski is a twenty-three year old Polish American preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the devastating news that his parents were killed in a car accident. Jacob’s father was a veterinarian and Jacob had planned to join his practice. When Jacob learns that his father was deeply in debt because he had been treating animals for just beans and eggs and had mortgaged the family home to provide Jacob an Ivy League education, he has a breakdown and leaves school just short of graduation. In the dark of night, he jumps on a train only to learn it is a circus train belonging to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.
As the story climaxes, several circus workers who were red-lighted off the train come back and release the animals causing a stampede during the performance.
In the ensuing panic, Rosie the elephant takes a stake and drives it into August’s head. His body is then trampled. Jacob was the only one who saw what truly happened to August. As a result of this incident, which occurred during a circus performance, the circus is shut down. Soon after, Uncle Al’s body is found with a makeshift garrote around his neck. Marlena and Jacob leave, along with several circus animals (Rosie, Queenie and others), and begin their life together.
Evaluation: The heart of the novel is centered on the relationship between Jacob and the bull elephant, Rosie, whose financial demand and obstinacy threaten the fate of the Benzini Brothers circus. Gruen’s research is evident, as she has mastered the circus language, using words like rupes, roustabouts, and kinkers to describe a world modern society has forgotten. She provides black-and-white photographs to accompany chapters in order to suggest emotion for the unique circus subculture.
I was interested by Jacob’s self-narrated memoir, but of course all good books must come to and end, and so I sometimes have the feeling of where I just want to stop reading the book where it is at its best point and not have it spoiled with down sides. It’s like I’ve entered this world with great characters, but once their stories are finished I must leave and move on to a new place. I didn’t want to leave the pages that exposed the truth of Jacob and Marlena’s affection or the cruelties of Uncle Al and August. But the book locked me in and all I could do was turn the pages until I reached about page 331 and the story was complete.
Rating: 4 Stars
Other Book Recommendations: Chinese Cinderella-The Little Prince-Defending Jacob-Elizabeth the Queen