Novel Ideas: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I realize that in my last post I recommended an entire book series, but if you devour books the way I do, you might be ready for my next suggestion.

I’ve always thought that there’s something magical about the circus, although I’ve never actually been to one. As a severe hypochondriac, I tend to stay away from places that put my cotton candy in direct contact with animal feces. But beyond the sanitation issues, the circus has a lot to offer. There’s something about the big striped tent, the exotic animals, and the scary/cool talents of performers that send my imagination reeling. I was always curious about what goes on behind the scenes of the circus. What led these people to join the circus? What are the positives/negatives of traveling across the country and shoving flaming swords down their throats? When did they first discover they could shove flaming swords down their throats and survive? Are these sword-swallowers leading normal lives outside of the striped tent? These are just some of the many questions that occur to me when pondering the circus life.

Sara Gruen’s novel, Water for Elephants, although a work of fiction, accurately portrays the circus life and answers some of these questions while also providing comedy, romance, and suspense. The reader follows the protagonist and narrator, Jacob Jankowski, as he remembers his life in the circus during the 1930s. Although a woman, Gruen manages to speak in the voices of both a crotchety, elderly man and a young, naive man. I even forgot while reading this novel that the writer was a female and several times I had to check the cover for the author’s name to make sure.

The book is factual while fictional, entrancing, enjoyable, and easy to live in. I could not put it down and I am going to read it again after typing this blog.

Like I’ve said, a great book has to be read and enjoyed more than once. And this is a great book.

Jankowski is a pillar of morality in a constantly moving world filled with evil and sin. And because of the great amount of research Gruen did, the novel is an accurate depiction of life in the circus, the Great Depression, and life as a young, confused, depressed man who is just discovering who he is and how to stick up for what is right. The reader gets a great behind the scenes look at the lives of these circus performers and how they function in daily life when they aren’t walking the tightrope and riding elephants. Did I mention there’s an elephant? There’s an elephant named Rosie and she’s the hero of the entire novel.

Also, this would be a great book to read at the moment because a movie based on the novel is coming out in April 2011. And guess who’s in it, girls? Rob Pattinson. If you hate Rob Pattinson, you should still see the movie because he actually is a great actor, despite his forced performances in the Twilight movies (Watch Little Ashes). Reese Witherspoon costars in the movie as Jacob’s love interest, Marlena.

A lot of times, I will go see a movie and then find out afterward that it is based on a book. So, this time, I beat them to the punch and read the book first. You should do the same. I am telling you this book is amazing.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Kasey Tveit

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