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Water for Elephants- A Must Read Book

Updated on May 27, 2011

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen is one of those books you will want to read and nowhas been made into a film.

I heartily recommend reading this book. It is rich with descriptions of both the glamor and gritty atmosphere of circus life along with the struggles during that period in America. The brutality that existed for both performers and animals is heart breaking at times and Jacob's triumphs will be cheered each time. The ending is amazing, surprising, and will leave you sitting there in wonder.


The story begins with Jacob Jankowski, now a 90, or as he says, "is it 93", year old living in a nursing home. He hates the life he lives now and is disgusted with his failing physical being. You will feel sad at the loss of dignity Jacob suffers along with his disappointment in his family's forgetting to visit. Jacob's story, centered around life in the circus during post-depression America, takes the back and forth between the sterile nursing home atmosphere and the crazy circus life as Jacob begins to reminisce about that period in his life; the exciting, dangerous, and wonderful time with the Benzini Brothers Circus dubbed "The Greatest Show on Earth during post-depression America.

As a young man Jacob's parents were killed in a car crash, leaving him destitute, just as he was finishing Cornell veterinary school. He walks away from college and falls into a job with the circus, working as their veterinarian for the exotic creatures, one of them being a very smart elephant named Rosie. Life becomes wild and unpredictable as Jacob struggles to get along with his sadistic, power hungry boss, Uncle Al, who when ready to terminate employment, simply has the employee removed from the moving train.

When a romance between Marlena, the show's equestrian star, and Jacob begins, life becomes dangerous. Marlena's husband, August, is unbalanced and becomes dangerous when she wants to leave him and the circus. Uncle Al enlists Jacob's help to get Merlena and her husband back together, for the good of the show, threatening him if he doesn't succeed.

During the story, the elephant Rosie plays a crucial role as Jacob struggles to protect both Marlena and Rosie from the abuses of Uncle Al and August. This is a rich story, giving the reader a real glimpse into the different life of a circus performer, how friendships and loyalties that are forged during a sometimes violent way of life.


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    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      I'll have to get it :)

    • MimiKat33 profile image

      MimiKat33 6 years ago from Northeastern NY State, USA

      In response to daughter insisted I read the book; I too didn't think it was a book I wanted to read but I am so glad I did, it was a wonderful story and well written.

    • chspublish profile image

      chspublish 6 years ago from Ireland

      Saw the movie and loved the story and enjoyed the part the animals played in it.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      I haven't read this book, yet, or seen the film, but I did read the extract provided by Amazon ('look inside') and thought that it was beautifully written.

      I was surprised that this book attracted me so much, as the subject matter is not something that would usually interest me.

      It's now on my list of books to read :)