Sunday, January 18, 2009

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Published in 2006. 335 pages.

First sentence of the prologue: Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.

First sentences of chapter one: I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.

Last sentence: For this old man, this is home.

Basic concept: Ninety-year-old (or maybe 93-year-old) Jacob Jankowski reminisces about his life at age twenty-three as a veterinarian with a traveling circus during the Great Depression.

Why I read this book: I put Water for Elephants on my to-read list back in October 2007. I heard good things about it all last year, but I hadn't yet made the time to read it - although I really did want to read it at some point. (I was a little hesitant, I think, because I knew that the book was, at least in part, about a circus, and I am not a fan of circuses. I also always worry a little when I've heard so many good things about a book; can it possibly be as good as everyone says?) In December, my book club did a Christmas book exchange, and I was thrilled to receive a copy of Water for Elephants. This was fortuitous as well, since the book was chosen as our book for January's meeting (which is on Wednesday).

Why I loved this book: Once I starting reading, I just couldn't put this book down. The story was compelling, and the writing style was comfortable. I loved the character of Jacob, and the alternating scenes between his time with the circus in the 1930s and his time at the care center in his nineties was the perfect way for the reader to get to know and understand him. The prologue sets up a bit of a mystery, too, about which I wanted to learn more. All in all, a terrific read!

Something I didn't love: There were a couple of graphic scenes of sexuality that I wouldn't have missed. The scenes could have been less explicit, maybe even left out all together. Their presence makes my recommendation of the book as a winner of an Alex Award in 2007 - for adult books that are appealing to young people, ages 12 to 18 - less enthusiastic than it would otherwise be.

Something I didn't understand: One of the discussion questions in the back of my copy indicates that the author has said that the "backbone" of the novel "parallels the biblical story of Jacob" in the book of Genesis. I am fairly biblically literate, and this statement didn't make any sense to me at all. I googled it and found this discussion on - interesting, but I'm still not sure I really see it.

Other book bloggers' reviews of Water for Elephants:
If you have read and reviewed this book, I would love to link your review here. Please leave me a comment or email me your link!



  1. I would never have made the connection to Jacob myself.

  2. Don't you just love it when you can't put a book down!?! I'm so glad you loved it as much as I did. :)

  3. This has been on my to-read list for AGES - this is motivating me to get around to it soon!

  4. I too skipped reading this one for fear of the "oh-my-gosh-this-book-is-the-best-book-ever" backlash. But I'm glad to hear that perhaps it really is worth a try!

  5. Great review. I couldn't put it down. I agree that it's not completely appropriate for the younger age group either. And, I would never have made the biblical connection either.

  6. I had to go visit some forums to figure out the Jacob connection. I was surprised with how many people don't remember the sex in this book. Yeah, not appropriate for younger crowd.

  7. I really enjoyed this book, too! I would've never thought I'd like a book about the circus so much but it was a great read! Glad you enjoyed it!

  8. I never made the connection to Jacob.

    I just wanted to let you know that I'm hosting a book giveaway for everyone who joined the In Their Shoes Reading Challenge this year.