Review: Water For Elephants


I’ve been reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants for over a month now. It’s not that it was a bad book, it just wasn’t for me – not my type of book. I will go as far as to say that it was well written and a good story – just not my genre. And so, I had to force myself to finish reading it. After while, it became a bit of a joke between my boyfriend and I whenever I’d mention that I was “still reading that damn elephant book” and he’d fuss at me to give it up. Never! I was determined to read what was described to me as a wonderful, classic book.

Water for Elephants has two plots, both starring the same main character, Jacob. In one plot, Jacob is a young man of college age, just starting out in the world. In the other, he’s an old man stuck in a nursing home where he is clinging to his memories. It’s narrated by the perspectives of both young and older Jacob. Sometimes, the narrative gets a little confusing. Every few chapters, it switches and we suddenly find ourselves “talking” to older Jacob again as he recalls events or talks to his attending nurse. Luckily, it wasn’t too hard to pick up on the switch.

Jacob as a Young Man

Jacob is about to finish his degree at Cornell’s veterinary school and has plans to join his Father’s vet practice. Just before he takes his final exams, his parents die in an accident. With no job or inheritance to claim, Jacob literally runs away and joins the circus.

He’s connected with the Benzini Brothers – a circus traveling by train, lead by ringmaster “Uncle Al” who takes Jacob on as the show is in need of a vet. It all seems like a good gig except that Jacob find himself paired to work with an edgy, difficult man known as August who is in charge of most of the big animal acts – one of which include August’s beautiful wife Marlena who Jacob is instantly attracted to.

August becomes increasingly violet towards Jacob and Marlena, resulting in brutal attacks on various people, animals, and most importantly – a bull (elephant) named Rosie. When August eventually slips his cracker and accuses Jacob and Marlena of sleeping together (not entirely far off), he snaps… attacks Marlena, hits her and causes her to leave him.

Jacob and Marlena run off together, have a lot of babies. The end. No, seriously. That’s what I take from this story. Everything else that happens ended up feeling rather irrelevant for me.

Jacob as an Older Man

In the nursing home, Jacob narrates most of the story by remembering the events. He’s slipping in memory, but never wants to forget. In fact, the details of his life involving Marlena are more clear to him than what he had for lunch yesterday.

The circus is in town and Jacob is all excited to go. It was a huge part of his life and at this stage where he’s so close to the end, he just wants to experience it one last time. Sadly, his family has forgotten to visit and no one will be there to help him attend. Jacob sneaks off to run away with the circus at the ripe age of 93, or or it 96?

Jacob tells his story to the ringmaster of the show and joins the circus once more, to live out his days.


It was a good book. I’d recommend it. It seems like the kind of book that whether you really like it or not, it’s a classic to read.

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