Ninety-year old Jacob lives in a nursing home where he spends most days parked in the hallway, waiting for Sundays when a visitor comes. He's excited because a traveling circus has set up next door and he can't wait to go. He flashes back to his youth during the Depression, when he was penniless and joined a third-rate circus as an almost-qualified vet. There, he fell in love with Marlena, the beautiful star horsewoman. Unfortunately, his boss was her brutish husband.
I absolutely loved this book. It contrasts the misery of being old and helpless with the non-stop action of life "on the show," though that certainly had its share of misery, too. The pathetic circus Jacob joined was full of lively characters, some kindly, others cruel, and Jacob was forced to grow from naive youth to courageous man. There were many pages that reduced me to sobs, especially those detailing the agonizing hopelessness of some nursing home residents and some instances of animal cruelty at the circus.
I would have give this book five stars, but I didn't like that it was written in the first person (which immediately takes away some suspense as to the future of the narrator), and it was written entirely in the present tense ("I watch.., I eat...") which struck me as awkward). The story itself is engaging, exciting, touching, and rewarding. Highly recommended.
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Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob's life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the "menagerie" and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into ...