Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

In 1930s Depression era America, Jacob Jankowski is tragically orphaned so he jumps a freight train to find a new life.  It turns out that he has jumped a train belonging to a circus so he finds himself working as a vet looking after the animals who are often horribly exploited.  There he meets and falls in love with circus performer Marlena, who unfortunately happens to be married to the psycho ringmaster.  The book juxtaposes Jacob’s  life in the circus with  a  the present day in a retirement home.

I started reading this initially because I had been told I would really enjoy the historical context but I found it a little bit lightweight and had to read something a bit more challenging for a while and then come back to it.  In fact I felt more could have been made about the era than he did, there were just a few references to bankrupt businesses or hobos.  The best bit of the book was the author’s note at the end when she recounted some of the true stories about circuses that inspired the story.  Some of the descriptions of animal cruelty were horrific and the descriptions of old age were very poignant but overall it just did not live up to its promise.

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