Christina’s Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Christina’s Review: Water for Elephants by Sara GruenWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Published by NY Books Pages: 375
Format: Paperback
Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all...


I found this book in the library book sale and had heard high raves about it. Naturally, I bought it and added to me to-read list as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the book…

Water for Elephants follows a man in his nineties as he reflects back on his time with a traveling circus around the 1930s and the Great Depression. Jacob was training to be a veterinarian when unexpected events guided him onto a train carrying the circus to town. Readers will meet many different animals, circus entertainers and the crew behind the circus set-up, the ring master himself, and other wonders of the circus. The circus wonders mix with a little romance, scandal, “business,” and trouble for some. Overall, a story is created that brings the reader behind the scenes of the traveling circus and its people.

To begin, I have to say I liked the seamless transitions between present day and the past circus days. Jacob is in a nursing home when the circus comes to town. The hype behind the circus causes him to reflect back on his time spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. This cross between time added another element to the story I enjoyed. In the end, I did not much care for the story of the circus, but I did like Jacob’s character (both young and old). I wish I could have sat there with him in the home and spent the afternoon listening to his story.

Although the book was a fast read overall (I finished it in only a couple of days), for me, it took a while to build up to the main story. Once it did reach its climax, I thought parts were predictable and the story was familiar to others told. Quite frankly, I thought there was too much animal abuse for me to really get into the story and fall in love with it. In addition, I felt there was a lack of chemistry in the romance that was supposed to be building. It felt forced and not natural.

If you are looking for a book on the circus, I would go back to recommending The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. There was a more mystical factor to this book that brought the magic of the circus alive with its characters and drama.

Water for Elephants was not the worst book I have read recently, but it was far from the best. I could not grasp what the “bestseller” aspect of this story was… it was not the best story told on a circus, it was definitely not the best romance love-story, and the ending was unrealistic. This book makes a good fast-read for the poolside or beach, but I would not recommend it outside of that. (I’m sorry!!)

pj - christina

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