Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I don't know how I've missed this one---it is such a powerful, emotional read.  Make sure you have your Kleenex handy because Water for Elephants is a tear-jerker. 

The story is told in the first person with Jacob as the narrator.  The story switches from Jacob in his nineties in the nursing home to Jacob in his twenties during his circus days.  Sometimes alternating perspectives can get choppy but Sara Gruen gets the pacing just right.

Water for Elephants is about a traveling circus, but it is mostly a love story---or at least it was for me.  Fans of historical fiction, or readers just wanting an engrossing story will love this one.

Just One Gripe: 
It can get a little graphic at times.

The Best Thing About This Book: 
I loved the ending.

Appropriate for a younger audience: 
Probably not.

Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5
Setting/Imagery: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Ending: 5/5
Total Score:  25/25


  1. I LOVED THIS BOOK!! I cant wait for the movie. :)

  2. LOVED this book, and I am not a fan of the historical stuffs at all.

    The movie better do this book justice.

  3. I was a bit surprised that I liked this book, mostly because of the whole circus bit. I liked Jacob, while Rosie got on my nerves a bit. I didn't realize it's going to be a movie until recently.

  4. A really phenomenal book! I look forward to the movie! It has some really good actors/actresses portraying the characters, and I look forward to seeing Rosie shine!

  5. I'm glad that you enjoyed this book as much as I did! It's a favorite of mine.

  6. I LOVED this book. We read it for a Book Club and it ended up being the unanimous favorite read from all of last year!

    I have to say I'm not that interested in seeing the movie. I have an image in my mind of the characters and setting and I really don't want it replaced with Rpatz and Reese. As much as I enjoy both of them. They're not who I would have chosen.I don't know if anyone watched the HBO series Carnivale but some of those characters are who I pictured. So I'm going to pass on the movie. Glad you enjoyed this one!!!

  7. I liked the book, beside it being a bit lengthy. My attention span gets shorter during the summer. I really liked Jacob's character more as an old grumpy man- especially the lunch room bickers- that was priceless. I was sad when his family forgot about him on circus day.

    I'm a new follower- my own book blog is named similar to yours- minus the "so"...

    Come pay me a visit! :)

  8. My cover is different (Clown on the grass: Cdn version). I enjoyed it but hated the husband's cruelty. They're shooting this one now with Reese Witherspoon and the boy who plays Edward Cullen from Twilight series. I wonder who else will be cast in the film since they have an incredible range of characters in the story.
    Keeping fingers crossed that they can do justice to this book.

  9. Kelli, I am so glad you enjoyed the book. It was a recommendation to me from a friend... and I am still grateful. I kind of agree with Mollie about being wary of the movie. Not sure if I want to see it.

  10. I don't know why but I wasn't head over heals for this book, it was a good read but definitely won't be reading it again. BUT I will be watching the movie ! ^_^

  11. Sara Gruen brings the Circus Culture of the mid 20th century to life through meticulous research, both the bright spot light and the grittier nature of transitory existence. Anyone who ever dreamed of running away to the big top or just dreamed of running away should read this book.


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