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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

What a delightful read! Water for Elephants has got to be one of the best reads for anyone that likes animals, circuses, and a very wonderfully flowing story. Working in or for a circus, especially in past years, had to be one of the most grueling and tough jobs to tackle. Sara Gruen makes the reader smell the circus smells, taste the midway foods, and be in the ring with the animals as they entertain. I have not been to a circus since I was a teenager, which is MANY years ago. Water for Elephants took me back to those days reminding me of some of the things I saw and smelled.

His family placed Jacob Jankowski in a home for old folks because none of them wanted to “have” to take care of him. Sad, but true. Jacob is not sure if he is ninety or ninety-three years of age. He only knows his age is somewhere around that range. Jacob hates the other old people in the home, hates the food, and hates the nurses that treat him like he does not know what he is doing or saying. This is no life for Jacob Jankowski!

The story then goes back to when Jacob was in Cornell College studying to be a veterinarian. He was shy about women; wanted nothing to do with them socially. Jacob thought he must be the worlds oldest male virgin. Jacob does well with his schooling until one day he was called out of class and told that both of his parents had been killed in an automobile accident. Jacob, of course, was crushed, mentally and physically. This couldn’t be happening to him. His parents had been paying his way through college so he figured he could continue his education with whatever his parents left him. His father was also a veterinarian with a good practice. Jacob was beside himself when he was told that all the property his parents owned was being taken because of no funds to pay for the bills. It turns out that his father bartered with his customers as they paid him in chickens, eggs, animals, or whatever they had, but not money.

This upset Jacob so much that he just took off walking and walking until he came to a rail track that had a train moving that he was going to jump on regardless of where it was going. Thus Jacob began his circus life when he jumped that train and met other circus performers and roustabouts. He had no idea what lie ahead. His inclusion into the circus life was difficult, as the circus does not like young rubes being around experienced circus people. When they found out he was “almost” a veterinarian, they were elated, as they had no one to medically care for the animals. This gave Jacob a ticket into circus life.

As I said originally, the author makes you feel as though you were in the circus troupe as they raised their tents, did their shows, ate the food available, got paid when there was money, running away from the law when one or more in the circus caused a problem with the law or local authorities, traveled on the circus train never knowing for sure where they would end up, putting up with the circus owner and top management that treated most of the help like dirt.

Of course there was much in the book about personal lives of the circus employees and owners. Also how the circus obtained more animals and equipment legally or otherwise. It is an eye opener for anyone to read. It makes one wonder how these circus people existed in those days of traveling and living such an uncertain existence.

The story does occasionally go back to Jacob in the home in which he is so unhappy. The circus comes to town and sets up right next to the home, making Jacob so excited to be so close to the circus, even though it is not one of the ones he worked when younger. The days passed so slowly as he waited for his family to come and take him to his big visit to the big top.

I doubt anyone could read this book without coming away with a great understanding of those old circus days and what they meant to the people that worked that hard life. You will know that Sara Gruen put much time and effort in her research for Water for Elephants. You WILL enjoy this book. It will entertain you and educate you at the same time.