Jacob Jankowski says: “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn’t always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn’t a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn’t write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.
How did I read this book I procrastinated on getting to until three days before the review? Very quickly! I started at the YMCA where the first few chapters hit so close to home for me that I found myself crying on the elliptical one moment and then writing on a paper towel my thoughts from the tread mill the next. Then reading while I road with Al to Crosslake to look at a job on Sunday and finally finished it this evening while Al watched The Big Bang Theory.
But – to the review. I found this book enlightening. I enjoyed the circus background – the details of what went on in a 1930’s circus from the traveling by train, the lack of pay and less than ideal living situations. I dove into the life of Jacob and how he made his way into the new and exciting life of working on a circus. The relationships built throughout this book felt genuine and I felt for Camel and loved the friendship that developed between Jacob and Kinko (Walter).
The circus workers seemed real and I could picture them with their rugged clothes, sad stories of broken homes, and childhood dreams.
I could have lived without all the words of Barbara and there was a couple parts that I would take out of my memory bank – but overall I can not fault the book. The writing is good, very good and I loved the flashbacks as Jacob tells the story of his circus days from his nursing home at the age of 90… or 93.
Highly recommended- don’t give up on the book when you run across the bit visually graphic parts…. they are few and the book is good.
Oh – and for the record. I would have killed him too. 4 rating
***Update May 12th Book review: This was an excellent review for us. The book rated high, mostly high 4’s and 5’s. We loved the circus theme and while we did discuss the crude parts of the book, found it necessary to stay true to the theme and the times. This book felt real with vibrant characters and plot themes. We loved the ending and overall had a wonderful discussion.