Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara GruenJacob Jankowski is living out his final days in a nursing home where the food is soft and tasteless, the nurses are bossy and paternalistic and the other residents are too senile to talk to. When a circus sets up on the vacant lot next to the home, he starts to recall the story of his earlier life. On the week following his parents’ death, the grief-stricken Jacob blindly ran from his college exams and jumped a circus train heading out of town. When the circus manager discovered that Jacob has veterinary training, he was put in charge of the ill-used circus menagerie and tried to care for them as best he could. Life in the circus proves nasty and brutish for both man and beast, and yet Jacob finds camaraderie, friendship and love in the year that follows.

What the Armchair Critics Thought:
A good, fun read. The overview of ‘circus’ life in that era was very interesting, especially the level of competition between the ‘great’ circuses and how they were constantly in fear of being taken over. Some of the searches for the weirdest folks to ‘display’ were quite comical. Of course, the maltreatment of the circus animals is fairly common knowledge, but to read it was disturbing. The circus was a family….a family of misfits, malcontents, n’er do wells, crazies, etc., but a family nonetheless. Jacob’s youthful tragedy sends him on a wild and wonderful journey to find a place to belong. And even as an old and feeble man in a nursing home, he is somewhat disenfranchised from his own children and he’s lost the love of his life, so where does he go…with all the dignity he can muster and what little energy he’s got to push himself and that walker forward? Back to the circus of course…any circus will do, it’s home, it’s family, and they take each other in and care for each other – they understand each other.

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