I drive a lot and so I listen to audio books a lot. Every once in awhile, a book will come along that is so unbelievably good that I arrive at my destination (typically home or work) and sit in the car continuing to listen for minutes upon minutes until I can tear myself away to go inside.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was exactly that kind of book.
Set during the Great Depression, Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, a veterinarian, and his days working in the circus. The story is told through two sets of eyes, a young 20-something Jacob and an elderly, “90 or maybe 93” year-old Jacob. We’re first introduced to him in his elderly state, learning about his dissatisfaction with life in a retirement home and listening to grumblings familiar to anyone with an aging relative. As we become comfortable with the senior, we are then introduced to Jacob as young man, just days away from his final exams at Cornell University. It’s then that tragedy strikes Jacob and he is spun into a world of loss, despair, poverty, and confusion.
Guided by instinct, Jacob hops a train and finds himself on the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth – a circus train. Through hard work and his veterinary background, Jacob quickly moves up the ranks of circus working men, eventually spending all of his time with the Equestrian Director, August, and August’s wife, Marlena.
As Marlena and Jacob grow closer as friends, the circus grows in strength while the dark secrets of this traveling life and those who run it – August and owner, Uncle Al – become clearer and more dangerous. The very eccentric Uncle Al uses all of the circus’ recent profits to purchase the most spectacular of all circus animals, an elephant named Rosie. Rosie forms a special bond with Jacob and Marlena and the three of them become intertwined in story of intense challenges, great pain, and unconditional true love.
As I listened to this book day after day on my drive, I was so moved by the characters, by the injustices, by the words that flowed from Jacob at both stages in life, that tears would stream down my face. I literally stopped applying make up before I left for work and started doing it in my car once I arrived.
Halfway through the book, I thought, “This would make an incredible movie!” Shortly there after, I realized the movie is coming out on April 22…I’m like a psychic (more likely, I had heard about and forgotten about the movie). I can hardly contain my excitement to see the movie; I cried during the trailer, then cried again when I re-watched it.
Overall, I absolutely love this story and recommend it to anyone looking for a touching, wonderful tale that combines history, love, and the circus in a most unique way.