Water for Elephants --- Sara Gruen
Circus is something that has always fascinated one and all. There is something so intriguing and enthralling about all the performers and the animals. It is meant for the kids but one step into the circus tent, and everyone becomes a child. Wide eyes, fearful exclamations, laughs, delight and claps echo within the tent. When a love story takes place at such a premise, you can expect something unexpected. And that is what Water for elephants is about. It rests its foundation on circus. Set in early 1900s’ Depression Era, circus brought sheer joy in the otherwise glum period. Joy and a few more things.
The story starts as the 'old Jacob', narrating his story to a circus employee. The 90 year old had carried a secret for almost 7 decades and is finally revealing it. Fed up of the care centre he escapes the watchful eyes of the hospital staff and goes to the circus that was in town. His secret keeps the man totally mesmerized, who almost forgets to report to the care center.
Flashback to the past follows. Jacob is an aspiring vet who is just one exam away from becoming a licensed doctor. With the plans to join his father’s practice, he is ready to start his career. But after his family’s tragic accident and loss of his house, he sets out with no idea of where he’s going. A chance encounter with a train that crosses the tracks he was walking upon changed his entire life. The train was the circus, Benzini Brothers. After a rough start, he becomes a part of the circus and starts from the bottom rung in the circus ladder. Slowly he rises up the ladder when he starts working as a vet. He noticed stark contrasts in the way the ‘workers’ and the ‘performers’ lived and were treated. He experienced both the worlds and made friends in the entire troupe. But there were only two things he loved in the Circus family. The animals and Marlena. He first experienced love in that chaos. That love made him take extreme steps which he otherwise wouldn't have taken. How the story progresses between the love triangle and the animals is what is story is made up of.
The narrative is very simple which makes the entire novel easy to read. Sara did an extensive research on the topic, which is very evident throughout. The harsh reality of the circus, plight of the animals being used in them and the performers will make your heart wrench. This is one of those books that can read in one sitting. (I personally took just 3 hours to read it. Yes, I'm bragging :P ) Though it had a nice story, especially of the lovely bond that animals and humans share, I got disconnected at many instances. There was a lot of use of Polish dialogues. One who doesn’t know Polish will definitely get lost and there are chances of the reader getting bored beyond a point. The story is otherwise like any other love story, predictable and dramatic. The only thing that kept me going through the pages was the lovely connection animal-human connection that is portrayed. It was very endearing and something really fresh. If you are an animal lover, and get repelled by thick books but still want a good read, or you want something light and a simple, uncomplicated story to read over the weekend, this is your pick.
This novel sends across the message that love and friendship do not need a perfect setting like most people dream of. It can blossom at the most unexpected places, amongst different kind of people. The people who may seem weird and crazy can turn out to be the best of friends and silent stares can lead to a beautiful relationship. And though there are no words shared, the animals/pets can understand us so well and even they have their own unique ways to showing that they care. The bond between a pet and his master is beautiful and this book celebrates that relationship. Read it for the pet-master bond more than the protagonists' love story, because the latter is rather disappointing.
P.S: This is one of those books of whose movie I preferred over the book. At least watch the movie. I’m sure you’ll like it. Yes, there are some changes in the movie compared to the book, but it works.