Get whisked away to the circus in this emotionally powerful novel, filled with plenty of drama and romance that easily captures the reader’s heart.
Set in an America in the grips of the Great Depression and prohibition, Sara Gruen’s deeply fascinating and heartfelt novel brings the glamour (and at times seediness) of the circus beautifully to life as seen through the eyes of Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell veterinary student who falls on hard times.
Switching beautifully between the 90 year old version of Jacob in the present day to the 23 year old Jacob back in the 1930’s, the story is unfolded with great heart and emotion, coving a number of different topics including prejudice, racism and domestic abuse.
While on the surface Gruen’s novel showcases the glamorous side to circus life, she also doesn’t hide from nasty elements – such as men being ‘redlighted’ off the train when the circus begins to struggle or horrific animal brutality that conjures up painful images for the reader to digest. But because it is all written with great sensitivity and thoughtfulness, it is easy to become enraptured with the world in which she has created.
As much as there is brutality and violence involved, there is at its centre a tender and believable love story between Jacob and Marlena (a performer in the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth) . The gradual build up of their relationship is wonderfully written , adding a delicious amount of tension between Jacob, Marlena and her husband and August that threatens to explode at any moment.
While the story develops, every emotion and sense is being used by the reader thanks to the vividness of the author’s writing which flows well from one moment to the next, with the reader never knowing exactly what is going to happen next. Her descriptions of the living conditions those involved with a circus were forced to live in as well as the violent encounters that Jacob faces has a powerful impact on the reader as well as ensuring that the characters come across as equally believable.
Water for Elephants is an extraordinarily beautiful novel that hits all of the emotions with a punch that you find yourself completely submerged in the story and the characters. Well worth a read.
Water for Elephants is available to buy through Amazon.