Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Full disclosure: I hate circuses. It’s not the clowns or the acrobats, it’s the animals. I’m not a PETA member or anything like that, but the animal performances make me uncomfortable . . . there are allegations that even the biggest circuses mistreat the animals, and I find it hard to believe it doesn’t happen. Nor do I like the “freak show” aspects of circuses. I just find them distasteful. So, I didn’t want to read Water for Elephants, because I knew it would be about the seedy side of circus life, and I am uncomfortable enough with circuses as it is. But my book club seemed interested, so I thought I’d read it to see if it would be any good for them. I’m still undecided.

Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary student who ends up working with the animals in the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The book is basically a “behind the scenes” look at a 1930s circus, with Jacob, the newcomer, as our guide. The circus stories alternate with modern-day Jacob, now in his 90s and living in a nursing home.

I thought this was a pretty good book, though, as expected, the animal stuff could get kind of gross (heck, the people stuff could get kind of gross). I liked Jacob as a character, but I didn’t get involved in the story all that much. I did very much like the character of Rosie the elephant . . . when she was introduced, I didn’t realize she’d be as crucial to the story as she was. I can see why people liked it so much, but . . . I think my dislike of circuses made it hard for me to appreciate or enjoy it. If it sounds interesting to you, you’ll probably enjoy it, but I should have stuck with my first instinct, I think.

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