Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, May 05, 2006

Water For Elephants:A Carnival of Delights

I've never read or heard of Sara Gruen before picking up her new novel,Water for Elephants but after finishing it last night,I'm going"Where have you been all my reading life?" The story hooks you right away;it begins with Jacob Jankowski,now in a retirement home where the biggest event for the residents is the arrival of a traveling circus. This brings back Jacob's memories of his days with the Benzini Bros circus during the years of the Great Depression. He was a veterinary student who walked away from his final exams after the tragic death of his parents and wound up joining the circus by just hopping on the right train at the right time.

Jacob's medical skills earn him a reluctant place amongst the crew of the Benzini Bros and come in handy when during their travels,a seemingly dull witted elephant named Rosie becomes part of the animal menegarie run by August,the circus' animal trainer who is your best friend one minute and your worst nightmare the next. August's turn-on-a-dime moods are usually overlooked not only by Uncle Al,the Ringling Bros wannabee that runs the show but by August's wife,Marlena. Marlena is the star horseback(and later elephant)performer whose love of animals draws her and Jacob into a close but dangerous relationship.

What's so wonderful about this book is the believable atmosphere Gruen creates for her characters,you can almost smell the popcorn and hear the roar of the crowds as you turn the pages. The time jumps from Jacob's past to the present and vice versa flow as easily as wind thru the trees. Another added bonus is the use of photos from the 1930s of circus life inserted into the beginnings of many of the chapters. I love it when an author can get to do this-it's like having a DVD special feature. The last book I recall that was just as well written with illustrations was Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund and Water for Elephants is just as top notch.

Gruen did a great deal of research about traveling circues of that time period and it really pays off with the rich details that enhance the story. She's also a marvel at creating such vivid characters as Kinko,a ill tempered clown forced to bunk with Jacob who winds up being one of his strongest allies and even Rosie herself,much smarter and more humane than some of the people around her. This is one book that you will hate yourself for missing out on,so be on the lookout for it at your local bookstore(check the title link for more details)or library near you.

I'll make a bold prediction that Water for Elephants will become the next reading group sensation-it's already the number one Booksense Pick for June(WFE will be released May 26)and I have no doubts that more good reviews from both readers and critics will be showered upon it. Most circues are known for glitz and greasepaint hiding shabby surfaces but in this case,there's nothing but the real deal here.


carriekabak@yahoo.com said...

It's a WONDERFUL book!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your review fully. This is a GREAT novel and will be remembered for years to come!

lady t said...

Thanks,ladies-I'll have an interview with Sara Gruen coming soon,so watch this space:)!