Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for the hospital book discussion group. This is one of those books where I infrequently looked at the back blurb and thought, "Ugh. That's right. I have no interest in ever reading this book." Since one of my goals for starting the book club was to read books that I wouldn't normally choose on my own, consider that goal successfully met.

I really, really didn't enjoy this book at all. I wouldn't have even kept reading beyond the first couple of chapters if I didn't "have" to read the book for the club. However, I'm the only person in the group who didn't enjoy the book! Reading truly is an individual experience, and I should note this book is a frequent book club selection and received a lot of critical acclaim.

The book is about Jacob Jankowski, a retired, 90-something-year-old veterinarian living in a nursing home. The majority of the book is comprised of Jacob's memories of traveling with the circus during the Great Depression after the unexpected deaths of his parents and his subsequent departure from veterinarian school. Of course, being young and newly alone in the world, he falls in love with a circus performer in a very troubled marriage and forms strong bonds with two other performers, conveniently disposed of at a crucial time in the novel, and an elephant named Rosie. The present-day ending is fantastical, at best, and I wonder if the ending is only in Jacob's imagination.

I actually did enjoy the small portions of the book set in the present-day at the nursing home. I thought those parts were powerful and compassionately written.

I also read about the details of the circus with some interest because I learned over the summer that one of my ancestors was left by her biological mother, a member of a circus, to be raised by a family in Iowa in the mid-1800s. Assuming this fictional book was as well-researched as the auther notes indicate, I can certainly see why raising a child in a traveling circus would have been all but impossible.

My overall rating for the book is a D+.


Nicola O. said…
Hee. I spent enough time in school reading books I didn't like. I'm willing to stretch a little sometimes, but I always reserve the right to throw any given book against a wall.

I probably wouldn't make a very good book club member. :o
Hi, Nicola! Thanks for your comments.

I normally quit reading books I don't enjoy, too, because life is short and because there are lots of reading options, fortunately. Since I started the book club, though, I feel obligated to read the selections. That's all coming from myself, of course!

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