Published by Algonquin Books on April 9, 2007
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance
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I have to admit that I wasn’t initially excited to read this book. I kept hearing great things about it, but I just had no interest in reading about a circus. Then I saw the movie preview… and knew I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie (I’m rarely able to finish a book if I see the movie first). So I started reading, and had a hard time getting into it at first… I think this was mainly because I felt like I HAD to read the book… as if I was back in school! I eventually got past this and was able to get immersed into Water for Elephants.
Usually, I rate books by how I feel while reading them, so my ratings are normally always subjective. In this case, I felt I had to give this book 5 stars based on the fantastic writing and the amazingly rich and unique backdrop of the train circus! It is obvious that the author did her research on circus culture and depression-era American history. She really dug into the down and dirty details of circus life. In the discussion after the last chapter you learn that many things in the story are based on true stories or anecdotes of the circus. The Bezini Brothers train circus is easily like another character in the book, flawed and deeply layered, like the characters themselves. I really liked how the story is told from Jacob’s perspective as a spunky 93 year old man, having flashbacks of his life 70 year earlier. The altering perspectives (from young to old) effectively grounded the story and added another layer to his character.
At times, this wasn’t easy to read… It was sad to read about the indignities of being old, and I felt like Gruen’s depiction was honest and very real. Though most of all, I had a really hard time reading some of the scenes with the animals. At one point I caught myself reading between my fingers, as if I was trying to block the scene from view as if it was a movie. I tried skipping over one but I had to go back and read it because I felt like it was important to the development of the characters and the story. It was, and they were. I just wish those scenes hadn’t been seemingly timed to when I was getting ready to go to sleep.
Seriously, I’m so glad I finally picked up this book. I highly recommend it!
Note: This was originally posted on New Shade of Green (my other blog).