Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jacob Jankowski tells his story as the novel’s protagonist who is a 93-year-old nursing home resident. As Jacob is told what to do and what to eat in the nursing home, he fights the idea of giving up his will by reminiscing about his time as a veterinarian in the Benzini Brothers Circus. Going flawlessly back and forth through time, readers learn what it was like to be a part of a Depression Era circus train that traveled from town to town-bringing people entertainment.
The hero meets up with some strange characters on the circus train. His train-mate is a dwarf named Kinko whose only friend is a Jack Russell Terrier named Queenie. The trio starts roughly but grows into a sweet friendship. Jacob works for an abusive Circus owner named Uncle Al, who will do anything to make a buck. Jacob also meets up with Marlena a star performer who loves horses and her husband August who can be both charming and brutal. The three form a unique love triangle that threatens to take all their lives.
Of course, the story’s title tells us there must be elephants in this circus, and there is an elephant. Her name is Rosie and Uncle Al purchases her from another circus. Rosie is ornery when Jacob is charged to take care of her. That is, until he realizes that Rosie only understands Polish and he begins to give her direction in his native language.
This five-star novel will make you laugh, cry, and horrified all at the same time. Some of the scenes deal with the abuse of animals and for the faint at heart; this may be difficult to read. Ultimately, this is an excellently woven story that accurately depicts the time and place it is set. Its themes of morality, mental illness, ageing, and love will pull the reader into the emotional turmoil experienced Jacob Jankowski and the people he surrounds himself with in the past and present.