I really, really liked this book and I’m not just saying it because it’s the book I chose for our book club this month. Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob, a veterinary student from Cornell, who decides to run away with the Benzini Brothers Circus after the death of both his parents and just weeks before he was due to take his exams to finish school. The story is told by Jacob, both as the 21 year old youth who joined the circus, and as the ninety (or ninety-three) year old man, who is now at the end of his life and looking back.
The story take place during the Depression and the author has really done her research, providing a vivid picture of what life would have been like under the big top. The story is filled with gritty, interesting characters, charming animals, and danger around every corner. Jacob is hired to care for the animals and he falls in love with Marlena, a performer, who is also the wife of August, the animal trainer, a paranoid schizophrenic who can be both charming and psychotic.
With other circuses collapsing across the nation, the threat of going under is real and workers sometimes go for weeks without being paid. The Benzini Brother’s boss, Uncle Al, puts all his hope in Rosie, a stubborn elephant, who he acquires after the demise of another circus. But Rosie proves to be hard to handle until Jacob figures out the secret to working with her.
All this leads up to an uproarious climax and an ending that made me smile. I really enjoyed this book. It made me very interested in doing some more research on my own about the circus, especially during the Depression era. It’s not a book that blew me away or really moved me, but it was a good read, so if you happen to stumble across it, give it a try.
Next month I’ll review Jennifer’s pick: Dear John by Nicholas Sparks