Did Sara Gruen, author of  the novel Water for Elephants, grow up in a circus family?  Was she an equestrian center ring star or a master trainer of elephants?  Did she and the other members or her family leave her father largely alone with his memories in a  “respectable nursing home?”  The answer to all of the previous questions is no!

How then did Sara Gruen create two marvelous parallel stories packed with  the intricate details and broad panorama of a Great Depression era travelling circus and the daily routine of a ninety-three year-old man spending his last days reminiscing in a nursing home?  My observation is that Gruen has a vivid imagination, wonderful story telling skills, and sought out the correct research to bring realistic detail to the story.

After devouring this book ( that is what you will likely do)  I think you will agree that there is little wonder why it has been on the New York Times Trade Fiction Best Seller List for 111 weeks!

I don’t know which story I like better. Is it Jacob in his old age making every effort to maintain his dignity and self-esteem? Or is it Jacob the young would-be-veterinarian out of Cornell before graduating , running away from  a family tragedy and in the dead of night hopping a circus train ? Is it the beautiful young Marlena the equestrian circus star stuck in a hopelessly abusive marriage?  Is it Rosie, an elephant that only understands Polish that becomes the glue in a love story?  Is it the collection of humanity that populates a travelling circus stuck in a daily struggle for survival?

I wonder if the up-coming movie can possibly create the color, smells, smiles, sadness, humanity and empathy that Sara Gruen has done so beautifully in WATER for ELEPHANTS.  I hope so. I will be there but I am sure glad I read the book first!

One final thought, buy WATER for ELEPHANTS in hardcover. It will stand the test of time in your library!

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