Thursday, July 29, 2010

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen

Posted by Life Explorer at 6:35 PM
ISBN:978-1565125605
Review:Stripped of everything after his parents' untimely death, twenty-three-year old Jacob Jankowski has failed to sit for his veterinary exams at Cornell, left with no home and no future, the country struggling through the Great Depression, bartering in goods instead of money. Hopping a train that by chance belongs to The Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, Jacob hires on to care for the menagerie, his training an entre into this bizarre world; but as the novel begins, Jacob is an old man, restricted to an assisted living home, his memories sparked by a nearby visiting circus and a creeping helplessness that assaults his ageing body: "Age is a terrible thief. Just when you think you're getting the hang of it, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back." The story is related in the somber tones of the Depression, the hardscrabble and often unscrupulous business of a traveling circus and the heartless despots who make their fortunes on the backs of men who must do anything to survive. Star performer Marlena, an equestrian, is sensitive to the needs of her horses, although her mercurial husband, August, the trainer, is obsessively jealous and given to unspeakable cruelties. Uncle Al, Benzini Brothers circus owner-by-default, is a ruthless businessman who cares little for man or beast, engaged in a quest for fame to rival the great Ringling Brothers. With his advanced training in veterinary medicine, Jacob does his best to protect the animals from their harsh existence, especially Rosie, an elephant purchased to replace Marlena's lead horse. Jacob and Rosie share an affinity for one another, the huge creature at times almost human. Because of his growing affection for Marlena, Jacob suffers August's increasing affronts, caught in a cycle of inevitable violence, certain of a reckoning. In chapters that move flawlessly back and forth in time, from the rowdy circus atmosphere to the antiseptic corridors of the assisted living home, the world is viewed through Jacob's perspective, as he rages helplessly against the decrepitude of old age and the secrets of the past. In prose both poignant and infinitely tender, Jacob dwells in both worlds, revealing the wounds of the past and the sorrows of the present. In one touching scene, Jacob awaits a family member to escort him to the circus, yearning for the Big Top with every fiber of his being, craving the familiar sights and smells of that pivotal summer of `31, the roustabouts, the kinkers, the rubes, the animals. The denouement is devastating, as inescapable as the indifferent world that turns a blind eye to the vagrants of the 30's. Yet Jacob's spirit retains the essence of his kind nature and a respect for others, a man who will not be broken by circumstances. All is redeemed in a coup d'grace that will leave the reader strangely satisfied and richer for having met this raggedy tribe of miscreants and lost souls.

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