Water for Elephants — Sara Gruen
The entire time I was reading this book I worried on mortality. Perhaps it’s the first paragraph of the first chapter that got me: “I am ninety, Or ninety-three. One or the other. When you’re five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I’m twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It’s a mere hiccup at first, but then you stop. You were going to say thirty-three, but you’re not. You’re thirty-five. And then you’re bothered because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it’s decades before you admit it.”
Since I entered my 30s, I have found myself second guessing myself when I tell someone my age — am I 32 or 33? So it hit home, impacting me in this emotionally, anxious manner in which I worried about life and death for the duration of reading the book. The novel may seem as if it is just about a man who joins a traveling circus when all else seems lost, but it is also a tribute to time and aging.
From the beginning, Jacob Jankowski, a vet student at Cornell, finds the dark side of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. But penniless and having just lost his parents, he abandons his schooling anyway and joins the traveling circus despite whispers of “red lighting,” the practice of throwing people off the train when they are no longer useful; unpaid wages; and rampant animal abuse. Amidst all this, Jacob falls in love. His love interest Marlena is a performer and married to his volatile boss. Just add an elephant and you have a tale that is dripping with drama while also drawing a historical picture of circus life during The Depression.
Reccomendation: It’s a keeper. I actually didn’t have much interest in reading this until my husband brought home his sister’s copy thinking I might like to read it. When I finally got around to picking it up I fell in love with this beautiful story where circus life was never more interesting and growing old never seemed more imminent.