This is my usual genre. But I wanted to read this before seeing the movie.
I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone. This book was well worth it.
Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob's life with this
circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy,
brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are
mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes
known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the "menagerie"
and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving,
venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal
trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights
into madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is
the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as
his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed,
bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of
the Downtrodden, and... he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August's
wife. Not his best idea.
Jacob Jankowski says: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the
other." At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living
out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life
wasn't always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the
circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn't a romantic, carefree decision,
to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week
before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He
buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had
mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the
exams, and didn't write a single word. He walked out without
completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he
joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling
Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and
pale by comparison.