There are some books I look at and want to read immediately. Their cover attracts; the blurb on the back entices; the title is intriguing. None of this applied to Water for Elephants. The cover is ok, but not spectacular. The story is to be about a man who found love when he jumped on a circus train, and I have no particular interest in circuses. The title has most intrigue, but is not sufficient on its own.
Here lies the benefit of a book group. Being 'forced' to read the book was the only way I would pick it up. And it was magnificent.
Water for Elephants is a novel about Jacob Jankowski, a Polish American who is orphaned just as he is about to complete vet school. Penniless and confused, he jumps a freight train in the dark, to find he is on a circus train. By the end of the next day he has a job with Benzini Brothers and has fallen in love. Neither is straightforward.
Sara Gruen clearly spent a lot of time researching the details of circuses in the depression era and her efforts paid off. Her descriptions were light yet alive: I could feel myself on the train, against the horse blanket, being chased by mobs, feeding the animals. The whole circus atmosphere was realistically portrayed, showing the outward glamour and the behind-the-scenes chaos and rivalries.
It is a love story; but it is so much more. The circus is the majority of the book, but in flashback, being told by a 93-year-old man from his nursing home. One of the cleverest aspects of the book was the ability to intertwine these two stories, using the characters of Rosie and Rosemary, to have the contrast of keeping animals and keeping old people, and to call for the vet or the doctor.
I have not seen the film, though others at my book group had and said the book was better. The writing incorporates different levels of personalities and administration within the circus and, as I said above, it is much more than a love story. It is an expedition into the life of a second-rate circus in 1930s America.
If you wish to find out more about the book you can visit Sara Gruen's website. I would thoroughly recommend reading it!