Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book 2 - Water for Elephants

Growing up one of my most beloved movies was Toby Tyler (which I just noticed is based on a book written in 1880, sadly it's not available at my library). To me there is something romantic about an old timey circus, even though there is quite a bit that is also quite sad and violent and cruel about them as well. My Dad suggested that I watch the movie version of "Water for Elephants" and I was surprised that I did enjoy it, I normally avoid anything with anyone from the twilight movies in it. Then when I found out that it was a book first, I was excited to read it. I was pretty lucky to get the hold request very quickly from the library and I devoured this book in just over a day.

I wish that I had read Sara Gruen's book version before having seen the movie as the two are quite similar. Gruen has an amazing descriptive voice and I was transported to the world of a depression era circus train quite fully.

For those not familiar, "Water for Elephants" is the tale of Jacob Jankowski a young man about to graduate from the Cornell school of Veterinary medicine when he gets devastating news. After having his life fall apart, in a fit of desperation he hops aboard a train seeking greener pastures only to find himself aboard a circus train. We are told this story in flashback form by an older version of Jacob, he is in his 90s and struggling to adjust to life in a nursing home.

As we move along in the story, Jacob becomes part of the team of the "Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth", he starts out shovelling manure but quickly reveals his education and becomes the show's veterinarian. He is immediately smitten with a performer named Marlena, however she is married to the explosive head animal trainer August. Space is tight on the train so Jacob has to share with a diminutive clown named Walter and his dog Queenie. Walter is fairly hostile at having to share his room with a working man as performers are usually a class above.

The circus travels along, sometimes picking up bits and pieces from other failed circus companies. Most notably the elephant Rosie who initially is nothing but trouble to the circus. This becomes a large problem as "Uncle Al" the ringleader and owner of the circus has sunk all the money into the purchase and care of the elephant and is now unable to pay his staff their wages.

In reading the author's note at the end, Gruen did extensive research on the subject before writing this book. There are classic photographs throughout and the authenticity added to my enjoyment. Not all meet a happy ending, but overall this book made its way into my heart.

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