Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

If you visited any of the book forums sometime last year, you would have come across this book atleast once. This book created such a big hype that everyone I knew was reading it and discussing it. A virtual friend of mine on a book forum was so insistent that I read this book, she even volunteered to send me a copy from across the seas when I said this copy is not available locally. When I spotted this book in my library, I had to pick it up and read it to see what the big hype is all about.

Gruen wrote this book as part of NaNoWriMo. This brings back memories of those days when I took part in that event. It was 2005 (or was it 2004?) and I vowed to write a novel in a month and I did. I even got a certificate for it. Unlike what happened with Gruen’s book, mine is languishing in the hard disk and will never get read by anybody else. It’s nowhere near Gruen’s novel when it comes to readability and quality, so let it be where it is.

Keeping the buzz aside, I found the book quite likeable. It’s about life in a circus – traveling constantly in trains, putting up camps, getting ready for the show, the glittery show itself, the animals around, clowns and freaks – and the not so pleasant part – sick animals, dying freaks, workers being thrown off the train and so on. The book starts with a man, Jacob, having coffee with his friends and there is an accident in the circus. There is an incident where ‘someone’ kills ‘someone’ and our narrator witnesses it and keeps it a secret for reasons best known to him. The next scene is the same man, in his early nineties, sitting in a home for elders and narrating his story. The story switches back and forth to the young man and his life in circus and the old man in the old age home. The way things are connected is beautiful. It’s as if you wake up from the past and you ease into the present without any hiccups. The mystery behind the incident and the secret is revealed at the end of the book and this part took me by surprise.

The story is interesting and leaves you wondering what happens next. The circus life is narrated beautifully. Why not, with all the research that the author did (which went on for 2-3 years), the terms used, the culture and lifestyle, the history is totally in depth and detailed.

One thing I found lacking in this book is the depth of characters. While the author concentrated on being accurate on the details of the circus, she didn’t give much importance to building her characters. There are some interesting characters, no doubt, but the same is not true about all the characters. Jacob, as an old guy, is interesting and lovable. August, the villain, evokes the required hatred in you. Uncle Al should have come out as a more towering figure. Marlene is the most shallow of the lot. Considering the story revolved majorly around her, she should have had a couple of more layers. Rosie, the elephant, is the best of all – she is naughty, witty and charming.

You should read this book if you are even remotely interested in circus. If you have ever been to a circus and had been amazed by it, then read this book. That being said, I don’t understand what the hype was all about. I wouldn’t go on the terrace and yell to anybody who cared to listen, ‘Hey, read this book’. Nope, I wouldn’t do that.

Wiki tells me this book is being made into a movie. Now that is something to watch out for.

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One Response to “Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen”

  1. 2010 – The year that went by « What I have been reading… Says:

    […] You Most Anticipated in 2010: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I had been hearing about this book all the time and had to read it to see for […]


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