“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen is a wonderful trip to circuses of the past and nursing homes of the present. Jacob Jankowski is a senior veterinary student in 1931 when his mother and father are killed in an accident. He drops out of school and hitches a ride on a circus train.
Jacob tells his story as a patient in a nursing home when he is 93 years of age. It’s the story of a young man coming of age during the harsh times of the Great Depression when small circuses were a common form of entertainment. He finds the love of his life and also the love for animals as he serves as the vet for the circus. He deals with difficult and psychotic bosses and the hard working roustabouts of the circus. It’s a world in which freaks are exploited, animals abused, and patrons cheated. The conditions are harsh for the workers who have no opportunity, during the depression, to protest their mistreatment.
It’s also the story of the elderly in today’s world. It tells how the elderly are cast aside by their children who become busily involved with their own lives. Adolescents begin to distance themselves from the family and this gradually becomes worse through the years until there is no time for the elderly who are conveniently set aside into a nursing home.
The story sounds depressing but it is nostalgic trip into the world of the circus when it was major entertainment for the family. It was an exciting world. Television and other forms of entertainment have greatly impacted the circus until only a few, like Ringling, are left today. The ending is great and very uplifting and heart-warming. The entire book is worth the last couple of chapters.
The book is filled with interesting characters. The most interesting of all is Rosie the elephant who is almost human if given commands in the proper language.
After reading this book, I’m going to take a break from the porch to attend the next circus that comes anywhere near Central Texas. I may have to pry a grandkid away from the TV as an escort.