Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Title: Water For Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: 5/5

“I came home poorer by several hundred dollars and richer by more books than I could carry.”

After realizing he is unsatisfied with his current life, Jacob hops on a passing train hoping it will lead him to a new destination. The train does in fact offer a new life for Jacob as he takes on the role of the circus veterinarian for the famous Benzini Brothers circus. Throughout his journey, he builds relationships with the crew members, including a beautiful woman named Marlena. Although they both sense strong feelings budding between them, they must decide if they are to act on these feelings and risk facing the cruel hands of August, Marlena’s husband and owner of the circus.

“The more distressing the memory, the more persistent it’s presence. ”

Water for Elephants was recommended to me by my grandmother and I can proudly say she has great taste in books. The story is told from the perspective of Jacob in the present day when he is in his 90’s. He relives his days in the circus and describes the events that shaped his future. This book is a story about forbidden romance that captivates its readers, displaying similar themes to The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks and Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. 

“Age is a terrible thief. Just when you’re getting the hang of life, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back”

Although the romance between Jacob and Marlena was engaging, my favorite relationships in the book were those between Jacob and his fellow circus workers, Camel and Walter. Camel and Walter were both such loveable characters. Camel with his wisdom and relaxed composure and Walter with his stubbornness and quick temper. Their relationship provided both depth to the story and comic relief.

Being an animal lover myself, I also enjoyed reading about the dynamic between Jacob and the animals, especially the elephant Rosie. Although he struggled at first to communicate with her, he remained patient and continued to gain her trust. I do warn you though, there are some scenes of animal abuse in this book that are difficult to read. However, being that it took place in the 1930’s, unfortunately it was not uncommon back then for circus animals to be mistreated.

“You call your child by the names of all your other children and finally the dog before you get to his.”

There was one strong underlying theme in this book that stood out to me which was the division between the upper and lower classes. This story takes place during The Great Depression when food and money were scarce. August, the owner of the circus, lives a somewhat luxurious life in his own personal train car with access to exquisite clothes and premium alcohol. Meanwhile, circus stagehands such as Camel and Walter are forced to sleep on the floor of the train car that holds the animals. There is also an apparent divide between the circus performers and the stagehands. When funds run low, it is often the stagehands that are left unpaid.

Sara Gruen’s book has now been made into a major motion picture featuring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. I, however, was not a huge fan of the film and felt it focused mostly on the romantic scenes of the book, failing to portray the other aspects that made Water For Elephants more than just a romance novel.

2 responses to “Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen”

  1. I can not believe that I did not realize that the main character was a veterinarian! I would have prioritized reading a long time ago. I am very interested to dig into it after reading your synopsis, even if it does have romance.

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