This month (May ’17), Ava Books’ Book Club Review takes a brief look at the novel “Water for Elephants”.
Written by Sara Gruen and published in 2006, Water for Elephants follows the life of a Polish-American man named Jacob Jankowski through his memories, spanning a total of seventy years. While the narrative delves into Jacob’s past, the present day describes him as a 93-year-old living in a nursing home.
Water for Elephants begins by looking at an event in Jacob’s past that was set to shape his future – which is described in detail as the book goes on. Studying veterinary at university, just before he graduated his parents are both killed in a tragic car accident. After finding out that he has no inheritance and no future job (he planned to join his father’s veterinary practice) Jacob goes awol, jumping on a train which happens to belong to the circus group Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.
After befriending both humans and animals on the train, the circus group soon learn about Jacob’s veterinary experience and he is eventually hired to treat the animals for the show.
From here, Water for Elephants jumps between the time that Jacob was living and working in the circus and his current, helpless state as an old man in a nursing home. Inevitably, we learn more about the many relationships and series of events Jacob was involved in while in the circus (not surprisingly, there is an elephant involved).
As the narrative switches to the present day, we are also given a side-story about how Jacob returns to the circus after his son fails on his promise to take him for the day.
Water for Elephants has received positive comments from our book club. Many have commented on how the story explores a diverse range of themes, from the tragedy of bereavement to romance, heartbreak and the depressing circumstances of old age.
Another point brought up focuses on his how the book details life inside a low budget circus; on the face of it, it is an exciting, magical group with jovial clowns and pranksters; dig a little bit deeper and we see cruelty, pain and anger helping to create a living hell for both the workers and animals.
In conclusion, this is an entertaining and often surprising story that has the potential to draw laughter and tears – without ever being too heavy on the reader. It is also worth pointing out that Water for Elephants has also been made in a film, which is well-worth seeing (after you have read the book, that is).
Next month, Ava Book takes a look at Robin Quinn’s The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire.