Thursday, November 28, 2013

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I reviewed Water for Elephants shortly before the release of the movie over at Book Nerds Across America.  I just watched the movie again and noticed I never posted the review on my blog.  In an effort to consolidate all of my reviews in one location, I will be posting several of my old reviews over the holiday season.

Date Read: March 26, 2011

Jacob, who is in his 90s and residing in a nursing home, narrates the story.  Throughout the book he has a series of flashbacks that tell the story of his life during the 1930’s depression-era.  We first learn that he was orphaned during his final quarter of veterinary school.  He was about to take his final exam when he discovers that he no longer has a family, house, or career to come home to.  He decides to hop a train to establish a new life for himself.  The train, unbeknownst to him, belongs to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  He meets August Rosenbluth, who is Marlena’s husband, equestrian director, and manager of the menagerie.  August offers him a job as the show's veterinarian, but Jacob quickly learns that the show is far from spectacular.  The animals are underfed, mistreated, and the employees are considered to be dispensable.  The circus is struggling financially, but Uncle Al (the ringmaster) spends all of their money to acquire an elephant named Rosie.  He believes the elephant will become the star attraction that will save their show. As it turns out, she drinks all of their lemonade and can't follow a single command.

Sarah Gruen does an excellent job of describing the grueling behind the scenes details of life on the road with a circus.  From the performers to the laborers to the freaks of nature acquired to help draw in a crowd, I could easily visualize the characters.  It did not take long to discover that Jacob and Marlena are perhaps the only characters with any morals.  Through their kindness to Rosie they begin to establish a bond with her and each other.   

I thoroughly enjoyed the book as well as the movie.  While I rarely believe a movie lives up to the expectations we establish as readers, this was very well done.  They did change some parts of the book for the big screen and combined a couple of characters into one, but it did not impact the overall story.  I absolutely love Reese Witherspoon and Rob Pattinson, so I couldn't have been happier with who was cast as Jacob and Marlena. 

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