Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

April 20, 2011


“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen is a boy meet girl story. However the setting is unique and the descriptions of early American circus scenes are well worth the admission price.

Book Review: Water for Elephants by Sara GruenMy rating for Water for Elephants4
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“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen is simple to read, an interesting story with engaging characters.

Even though this novel is not perfect and a standard “boy meets girl” story it does have a charming setting, the descriptions are colorful and the characters are a variety of misfits; but somehow it all works and comes together very nicely for an entertaining read.

While the book has its ups and downs, the narrative seems hurried at some points, the plot contains drama galore (stampedes, murders and many fights) Ms. Gruen’s managed to take an outrageous premise, combined with romanticism and make it enjoyable. There are pictures of real American circus scenes from the first half of the century peppered throughout the book which really hit home and actually helped visualize the narrative and the bizarre subculture which is presented.

Granted, the book is not going to be put on a shrine of the scholarly literary Olympus, but to me this book felt as if I was reading a fairy-tale – and I tremendously enjoyed it.

So tell me, are you going to see the movie? Are you afraid it will ruin the book for you?


Jacob Jankowski’s parents have been killed in a car accident and he decides to leave his veterinary studies in Cornell and aimlessly climbs on a train carrying Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. When the circus’ owner Uncle Al and strongman August Rosenbluth discover that his stowaway is a test away from being a certified veterinarian he is hired on the spot.

Jacob soon discovers Mrs. Marlena Rosenbluth, a beautiful horse entertainer and animal lover. Riding around the nation, buying bankrupted shows, the circus gets Rosie, an elephant who is stubborn and uncooperative. Jacob and Marlena cannot stand the acts of cruelty in the circus and decide to take a stand.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer:I bought this book
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on books

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  • Juju at Tales of WhimsyApril 20, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I can’t wait to see and read this! Great review.

  • Leslie @ Tic TocApril 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Am I wrong, it seems a bit more hyped up for what it is about. It seems engenous, sure, but it is certainly being talked about.

    • zoharApril 20, 2011 at 9:37 am

      The thing with movies is that the advertising works only up to opening weekend, from then on its word of mouth.

  • Book DilettanteApril 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I really liked listening to the audio version of the book. Tremendous!

    My review.

  • Shannon YoungApril 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I agree that it was rushed in places. I read an interview in which Sara Gruen said she actually wrote the first half and then waited for nearly a year before finishing the book. I wonder if that affected the pacing. It was still a fun book though.

  • RachelApril 21, 2011 at 1:57 am

    I listened to the audiobook and it was fantastic, with it’s creepy circus-y music at the beginning and end of important chapters.

    Great review! I’m a sucker for movie adaptations so I can’t wait to see this movie. I’m just praying it doesn’t get screwed up like so many great books do.

  • Marla WorleyApril 21, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Good review as always!

    I enjoyed (enjoyed is a light term – I really had fun reading this one and loved the characters…the story and the characters stuck with me after reading) the book and I do want to see the movie, but I’m always scared a movie will ruin a book for me (I love books in a crazy way so I get a little overly critical of the movies – sometimes I just don’t see the logic in the things they choose to change or delete). From advertising, which can be very deceiving, Water for Elephants doesn’t look like one that will disappoint!

  • AmusedApril 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    My book club read this book a few years ago and we really liked it. I remember enjoying the storyline but not loving it (because circuses freak me out, it’s just a thing I have) but now, because I read, I do want to see the movie!

  • Linda RobertsApril 22, 2011 at 2:31 am

    I read the book and loved it! I found the whole historical context of the railroad circus in the depression-era fascinating. I definitley plan to see the movie…duh..Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson!!!

    This was a great review.

  • AthsApril 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I can’t wait to watch this movie! I read this book last year and loved it!

  • MCApril 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Nice, succinct review. Haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve been hearing good things (mostly).

  • FaithApril 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I haven’t read this book as I’ve heard mixed things about it (and it doesn’t sound particularly appealing to me), but I constantly recommend it to others as an example of a NaNoWriMo manuscript that got published.

  • MissyApril 28, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Now that I’ve read the book, I definitely want to see the movie! It’s funny, I wasn’t inspired to pick the book up to read it until I began seeing the trailer on TV…I am so glad that I did 🙂 Great review!

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