REVIEW: #93 Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen


Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

Title: Water for Elephants
Author: Sarah Gruen
ISBN: 978-1565125605
Pages: 350
Rating: ★★★½☆


(Taken from
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell.

A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.


When I saw the movie trailer for Water for Elephants, I knew I just had to read the book. With blazing reviews, it seemed like it was a book that couldn’t lose. While I’ve seen Water for Elephants in stores for quite a while now, it never interested me to pick it up. Just being honest, here.

water-for-elephants-coverAm I glad that I did, though? Sure. Water for Elephants was a beautifully written novel alternating between present day 90-something year old Jacob in a nursing home/retirement center/assisted living facility and 20-something old Jacob during the Great Depression. The circus has come to town and it has caused Jacob to think about his short time working as a veterinarian on a moving circus show.

Jacob meets a lot of interesting characters; crazy, bizarre, and ruthless.  We are introduced to cutthroat circus world. Yes, you heard that right — cutthroat!  Seeing that Sara Gruen spent a long time researching this era, I am going to assume that the way the business worked couldn’t be too far off and so therefore, I am a bit shocked in general at how dark circuses really are.

Gruen does a wonderful job painting a picture — however, it was never a book that I could not put down. It was enjoyable but not gush-worthy enjoyable. I really expected to be “hushing” my husband while I was reading this but I did not. It’s (for the most part) not fast paced. It takes a long time for Jacob and Marlena to even show any kind of connection. While reading it, I kept waiting for it; waiting for the tension between them and the lust. I truly wanted to feel their love. But I didn’t — not entirely, really.

For the most part Marlena was very doting on her husband, August. So when the affair between Jacob and Marlena starts it really does appear shocking and unbelievable. Maybe had there been some more red flags earlier on then maybe it would be more understandable. Instead everything is explained after the fact, way towards the end of the novel.

I also did not find a huge emphasis on Rosie, like I had expected. I kind of assume that Marlena and Jacob would bond over the training of Rosie but they didn’t. Rosie did not even come into the picture until maybe 3/4ths done with the entire novel.

I think in the case (for me) of Water for Elephants, it may be a book much better enjoyed read aloud or on audio. I also think that while the book was semi-enjoyable, because of the theatrics of the era, the movie just may be better. Maybe.

  1. Marce says

    I really want to read this before the movie. Nothing about this book intrigued me, I try not to go with the hype but it sounds like my type of movie. I think I will read next actually. Thanks for honest review.

  2. Mandy says

    Ashamed to say I have not read this yet. I’m planning to pick it up the next time I get to a bookstore. Everyone is raving over it…it must be good!

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