Water for elephants : a novel by Sara Gruen

waterforelephants  lindaj  Review by:  Linda J.

Title:  Water for elephants : a novel

Author:  Sara Gruen

Collection:  Adult Fiction
Sara Gruen did a lot of research before writing this book.  She came across some photos of old circus performers, and was inspired to write a book set on a circus train and the stops along the way.  She interviewed performers and circus fans, and visited zoos and circuses.  This novel is historical fiction and takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Jacob is studying veterinary science at Cornell University, following in his father’s footsteps, when he gets the devastating news that his parents have been killed in an accident.  He discovers that the family home has been mortgaged to pay for his studies, and feels he has nothing to live for so he hops a train.  The train he chooses happens to be a circus train, and Jacob joins the circus.
The story is told in flashbacks by 93-year-old Jacob who lives in a nursing home.  A circus is setting up in the lot down the street from the nursing home he lives in,  and he begins to have vivid memories of his life in the circus.  We learn about such characters as Marlena, the horse trainer, her husband, August, the animal trainer, Walter, a circus clown, and most importantly, Rosie the elephant.
I thought this was a great book!  It had great characters, an interesting plot, and the setting was well done.  The author really did her homework.  The Depression Era was a tough time, especially for the circuses.  They lost their glamor, and circus managers would resort to violence and dishonesty to get their way.  Workers who were no longer needed would be redlighted-thrown off the train!  Many paydays went by without anyone getting paid, and eventually many circus owners just walked away from the train and let the workers and animals fend for themselves.  Great story, great characters, plus, there are pictures!

Sara Gruen moved to the United States from Canada in 1999 for a technical writing job. When she got laid off two years later, she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. A devoted animal lover, her first novel, Riding Lessons, explored the intimate and often healing spaces between people and animals and was a USA Today bestseller. She wrote a second novel, Flying Changes, also about horses.


Sara Gruen’s awards include the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year Award, the Cosmo Fun Fearless Fiction Award, the Bookbrowse Diamond Award for Most Popular Book, the Friends of American Literature Adult Fiction Award and the ALA/Alex Award 2007.  Sara Gruen lives in the south with her husband, sons, horses, dogs, cats and a goat.

One Response to Water for elephants : a novel by Sara Gruen

  1. Pingback: 30 Day Book Challenge: Day 20 | The Day Dreaming, Candy Eating, Red Headed Bookworm

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