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Water for Elephants July 31, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books, Reviews.

Sara Gruen offers a thoroughly charming piece of storytelling in Water for Elephants. It is the tale of Jacob Jankowski, who in the twilight of his years recollects what led to his joining the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the events of the protagonist’s reminiscence are a unique window into life on a traveling circus, with an accompanying cast of unforgettable characters that only such a story calls for.

Water for Elephants no doubt pays homage to the heyday of the Big Top: Ms. Gruen admits as much in her accompanying author’s note. As a love letter to that bygone era, the novel works wonderfully. That the events depicted are based on historical accounts — anecdotal or otherwise — has much to do with this, to be sure; but really the book shines because of its emotional hook in the experiences of the fictional Jankowski. His story is one that is exceedingly easy to relate to: one of personal tragedy, unexpected adventure, and forbidden romance.

For a sophomore offering, Sara Gruen proves herself adept at her craft. Her narrative is wonderfully paced on the whole, and portions that are decidedly mature in their sensibilities are depicted in good taste (though not for younger readers). There’s even a little smoke and mirrors in her use of flashbacks, a device she employs very well. Because of these fine qualities, it is easy to forgive Ms. Gruen for conceiving of a convenient resolution to the story, for even this is accomplished so adroitly.

With Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen has written a book that cannot come any more highly recommended.



1. Amina - August 28, 2008

Now I’m really eager to get the book and start reading.

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