Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is an excellent novel that chronicles the life of Jacob Jankowski and his experiences in the Benzini Circus, one that is second rate at best compared to the Ringling Bros. Water for Elephants opens in the present day with a cranky old Jankowski living out his last days in the nursing home. The novel flashes back to the Depression era when Jankowski’s parents are killed in an automobile accident one week before he is supposed to take his final exams for vet school. Left with nothing, he abandons his exams and randomly ends up on the circus train where he spends the majority of his adult life.
There are some heart wrenching moments in this book, and Gruen touches on heavy issues such as animal cruelty, human-animal bonds, the experiences of being a misfit and living life in a nursing home. It was interesting to hear from the viewpoints of the people who have to live as a freak in the circus, or who go to a nursing home knowing that is where they will die. Gruen has definitely done her research into the circus life and lingo. This novel has a lot of depth to it that makes it much more than a simple beach read.
Gruen, also known for her earlier sequels, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, has a new book called Ape House coming out September 7. Ape House features the communicative behaviors of bonobo apes. It presents another human-animal bond that is present in all of Gruen’s books. One of the critics says that this book does not fare very well compared to its predecessor, however, another critic says that it is a wonderful book. So it is a matter of preference I suppose. Water for Elephants will be a tough one to beat. It was published in 2006 and still remains in the Kindle Top 100 list.