Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Synopsis: As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
Review: What I wonder is what took me so frackin long to pick this book up. Maybe it was the cover maybe it was the subject I don't know but its been sitting on my shelf for well over two years. When I started seeing trailers for the movie that is about to be release I knew I needed to read the book before the movie came out.
I fell in love with this book from page one and feel like an idiot for not reading it sooner! I could smell the manure, the roasted peanuts and popcorn. The unwashed bodies and animals. Each description was so vivid it put me right there with the characters. The details were so well researched and the characters so real that you felt like you knew them. It reminded me of how I felt when I watched the HBO series Carnival minus the whole devil etc theme of that show. The circus was not an easy life and it was even worse for a 3rd rate show during the depression.
I really liked how most of the book was a flashback but there were glimpses of Jacob as he is now, a grumpy old man just trying to live his remaining years with some dignity. I have to agree with his character on so many points, the bland food, the forced medications of the retirement home, why? He was 90 or 93 why not let him have a little pleasure.
The story revealed so much about circus life and the people who worked them, the relationships complex and ever changing. Workers never knowing if they were going to get paid, performers not interacting with workers, and the hierarchy of the train cars. It makes you wonder what circus life is like now. Is there still the same separation of classes?
I can't say enough about this book, it swept me away into the tragic and fascinating life of the circus.