Sara Gruen’s novel, Water for Elephants, transforms the classic love story, taking the reader on a circus filled adventure. Set during the time of the Great Depression, Gruen recalls the life of vagabonds, forced to join the circus.
Jacob Janoski is currently a 95 year old man residing in elderly home, constantly harping on the idea that “age is a terrible thief” as he flashes back on his intrepid past. His story begins as a veterinary student at Cornell and after a tragic occurrence he finds himself joining the pathetic grandeur of the Depression-era circus. On the Benzini Brother’s Most Spectacular Show on Earth train, Jacob immerses himself in a world of bizarre subculture, painting a picture of lions, acrobats, and other circus oddity’s across the reader’s mind.
Gruen does a beautiful job at portraying the desperate drifters in the depression stricken era. Their way of life, struggling to just get by on this train and means, as well as consequences of entertainment in a time of prohibition is eloquently described.
The romance that develops between Jacob and Marlena, the star of an equestrian act, moves the novel along. Gruen uses what can only be described as crowd-pleasing romanticism. This strong passion that is supposed to be between the two star-crossed lovers is never convincingly developed in the story.
Nevertheless, Water for Elephants is a suspenseful, compelling novel that touches on adventure, love, and what it is to grow old. You will be sad to put the book down.