Water For Elephants

Long time readers of this blog already know that I am just a huge little kid when it comes to the circus and an enormous fan of Gary Jennings extraordinary Spangle trilogy chronicling a traveling circus troupe in the American south and in Europe in the years immediately following the Civil War.  So when I recently scanned Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants with the striking illustration of the man in the brilliantly spangled long coat entering a circus top, I knew instantly that I would have to read and blog about this one.    The tale of Jacob Jankowski, a 93 year old nursing home resident who is sick of the bland food and bland life who recalls his youth as a veterinarian on a traveling circus in the American Midwest during the Great Depression.

Like Jennings, Gruen displays great craftsmanship as an historical novelist.   Water For Elephants rings true both to the historical period and to the circus.   Gruen deftly moves back and forth from the circa 1930 circus lot to the 200x nursing home relating Jacob’s mounting excitement as he learns that a traveling circus will be performing in the large vacant lot visible from the nursing home’s windows and arrangements are made for someone from his family to come and take him to the circus on the Sunday that was to be the last day the circus was in town.   From the escapades of the troupe in the days that many different traveling circuses tramped around America to a pitch perfect ending when Jankowski decides to run away (from the nursing home) and join the circus again Gruen’s novel is a pure delight.

If you have not already read Jennings’ Spangle books, Water For Elephants provides a much shorter and more accessible introduction to the circus, and if like me you are already a fan of those books, this one is an Absolute Must-Read.    Highly Recommended.