I’m a bit behind on the hip books to read. The Help passed me by as did The Hunger Games and every single Harry Potter book. This habit has go to change. After reading Water For Elephants I’m realizing that by missing out on the popular books, I’m missing out on a whole bunch of well-written, unique and just plain fun stories.
I read Water for Elephants because it was available from the library when I wanted a new book to read. I was in the mood for a historical fiction book that wasn’t about a real person and it seemed to fit the bill. Besides, I’d heard so many glowing reviews (and it was made into a movie with Robert Pattinson), I figured that there was probably something redeeming about it. So, onto my kindle it went and went with me to Turin. I started it sitting on the Turin subway.
Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is primarily set during the Great Depression, following a circus troupe around as they try to hit the big time. The story is told through divided viewpoints in two different eras, letting us know the protagonist Jacob Jankowski both as an old man (how we first meet him) and also as a young one just out of Cornell. He narrates in the first person allowing you to see the similarities and differences between his elder mind and his young mid.
Jankowski joins the circus after tragedy strikes his world. He wants to get away and stumbles upon the circus his escape during the middle of the night. Despite not meaning to stay with the Benzini Brothers, he quickly becomes intwined in their world and works as a vet in the menagerie. He has to learn the finer points of circus life, providing the Gruen with the perfect excuse to complain the intricacies to us confused readers.
Water For Elephants is, above all else, well researched and a joy to read. You feel as if you are there, you forget that this world is made up. The historical setting becomes secondary and the characters take on their own lives. While I enjoyed the settings and I enjoyed how real they seemed, I sometimes found myself wondering where the story was going. This is a story about the circus. If you found the circus interesting before, you’ll love it. If you discover that you quite like the circus while reading, you’ll love it. If, however, like me you still don’t really connect with the world of freaks, you’ll feel a distance from the book that isn’t uncomfortable, but noteworthy.
The story is driven by Jankowski’s search to fit in and find love, yes, but the the circus is the true protagonist and the feature that unites the current and past worlds of the story. In order to get the most out of the book, you need to care about the fate of the circus. If not, you’ll still enjoy the story, but won’t be able to take part in the ups and downs of the narrative arc.
Water For Elephants is definitely worthy of all the praise, but perhaps not my favorite book of the year. If you’re looking for one last book to read to close out 2012, it’s definitely something to check out. It’s quick and will get you thinking. Who knows, you may even discover that you too love the big top.
Do you read popular books as soon as they are released? Do you like the circus? Have you ever been?