I haven’t read a book as good as this one in a long time, therefore, I haven’t really had a reason to post a review. But, this book is that good! This book will make you laugh, make you cry and make you love–and that’s just with the elephant.
The author was born in Vancouver, lived in London, Ontario and went to university in Ottawa.
This novel, which is her third, was the winner of the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year Award.
It takes me a while to get to the end of the hall, but I do–and on my own pins, too. I’m pleased as punch, although once there I realize I still have to find my way back.
They part for me, these old ladies. These are the vital ones, the ones who can either move on their own steam or have friends to wheel them around. These old girls still have their marbles, and they’re good to me. I’m a rarity here–an old man among a sea of widows whose hearts still ache for their lost men.
“Oh, here,” clucks Hazel. “Let’s give Jacob a look.”
She pulls Dolly’s wheelchair a few feet back and shuffles up beside me, clasping her hands, her milky eyes flashing. “Oh, it’s so exciting! They’ve been at it all morning!”
I edge up to the glass and raise my face, squinting against the sunlight. It’s so bright it takes a moment for me to make out what’s happening. Then the forms take shape.
In the park at the end of the block is an enormous canvas tent, thickly striped in white and magenta with an unmistakable peaked top–
My ticker lurches so hard I clutch a fist to my chest.
The story starts out with Jacob Jankowski, an old man in a nursing home. When the circus comes to town, he starts remembering back to the time he was in the circus.
He didn’t start out in the circus, though. His father was a veterinarian, and Jacob followed in his footsteps. When he got accepted to Cornell University, his parents were happy that he would be carrying on in the family business. But, when his parents are killed in an accident, he finds out that his parents had nothing in their business or estate. They had to take out a second mortgage to send him to college, and because of the economic times, people would pay with whatever they had. A farm animal or with food–whatever they could afford.
Jacob is supposed to take his final exam, but with the news of his parents death, he can’t concentrate on the exam, and instead, runs. He hops a train and inadvertantly becomes a part of a second-rate circus as the circus veterinarian, using his skills and love of the animals to keep himself there.
Marlena rides the horses, doing tricks on them, balancing on them, and Jacob watches her as she performs. He falls in love with her almost immediately. But, Marlena is married to August, a less then gentile man. He treats everyone with disdain, even Marlena.
When Uncle Al, the owner of the circus, acquires a bull elephant named Rosie, and everyone thinks that the elephant is stupid, and a complete waste of the already poor circus’ money.
Uncle Al pays no attention to her at all. He marches straight to August and jabs his finger in his chest.
“It’s your goddamned bull!” he screams.
August looks down at the finger sticking into his chest, pauses a few beats, and then takes it daintily between thumb and forefinger. He moves Uncle Al’s hand aside, and then flicks a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the spit from his face.
“I beg your pardon?” he asks at the end of this operation.
“It’s your goddamned thieving bull!” screams Uncle Al, once again showering August with spit. “She pulls out her stake, takes it with her, drinks the goddamned lemonade, then goes back and sticks her stake in the ground!”
Marlena claps a hand over her mouth, but not in time.
Uncle Al spins, furious. “You think it’s funny? You think it’s funny?”
The blood drains from her face.
August takes his frustrations and his anger out on Rosie, hurting her until Jacob realizes that the reason that Rosie isn’t doing what they want her to, is because Rosie understands Polish. Jacob speaks Polish to her and Rosie responds with many tricks.
As Jacob spends more time with Marlena, they both start to have feelings for one another. When August finds out about their blooming relationship, things get bad for everyone at the circus. No one is safe when August is angry.
I highly recommend this book. You will fall in love with Rosie, Jacob and Marlena, as they travel from city to city, putting on shows.
“Water for Elephants is a dark and beautiful portrait of a crumbling circus. With warmth and whimsy, Gruen depicts an unforgettable world where love is a luxury few can afford.”