“Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.
Jacob was there because his luck had run out – orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive ‘ship of fools’. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act – in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.”
What I thought:
It’s actually about 4 years since I read this book, but having just gone to the cinema to see the new film version it has reawoken lots of memories and made me want to read the book again; I loved it the first time around but I want to enter their world all over again.
This book is a real gem: a rare gem that thrills and shocks simultaniously. This is a beautifully written, well researched, off-beat love story about a young man called Jacob who (having been suddenly orphaned at the age of 22 while at university and in the age of the depression in America) finds himself, quite unexpectidley, working for a circus. Here we are treated to a feast of colourful (many rather unsavoury) characters (with dwarfes, bearded ladies and a whole host of animals). This book is just spectacular – the way that I was immersed into circus life was astounding, I really felt the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells; I was there in the big top, there on the train in the dead of night, there at the raucus after-show parties – Gruen did a fantastic job of setting the scene.
Animals are one of my biggest passions (along with books and travel) and therefore any book containing animals is usually a hit with me. Water for Elephants is not only a love story between Jacob and Marlena (a married woman whom he loves from afar) but also between Jacob and his animals, imparticular an elephant named Rosie whom I also fell in love with.
The story flits between Jacob as an old man in a nursing home (where a circus comes to town which brings back all his memories) and Jacob in the 1930’s during his circus years. This is a wonderfully written, engrosing, captivating novel and I felt lost when I had finished it; I truly had wothdrawal symptoms. Now after having seen the film (with the deeeeeeelicious Robert Pattinson – which is a good enough reason alone to go and see the film!) I want to immerse myself in this wonderuful vibrant and chaotic world that is The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If you think you won’t like a book set in a circus, think again; there’s so much more to it and I promise you won’t be disappointed.