Thursday, July 13, 2006

Book Review: "Water for Elephants"

Summer evokes an image of lazy days, of random opportunities and explorations that pan out into some of the best-valued memories. “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen is an ideal supplemental Charlotte Weekly book club pick for July because it falls into that pattern of endeavor turned treasure; the reviewers at USA Today call Gruen’s work this summer’s delightful sleeper novel. If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, run – don’t walk – to your nearest bookseller. You’re in for a treat.

Set in the 1930s, the novel explores the mostly unexamined world of the circus. In the center ring of Gruen’s narrative is the kindhearted circus veterinarian, Jacob. After some misfortune, he finds his way to the Benzini Brothers’ Circus and his life takes off.

If you’ve ever been curious about just who circus performers are and how they got to be in such a “spec” (circus speak for the spectacular or the show), wonder no more. Gruen constructs her characters in such vivid detail that the reader feels like he or she living life with them, not excepting the numerous animals, such as Rosie the elephant, who populate the story.

“The story contains a lot of plot points that are parallel to the Old Testament story of Jacob,” Gruen said. “But you don’t need to know anything about that to enjoy the story.” Gruen said she felt compelled to write “Water for Elephants” after seeing a photograph of circus performers during that era. “The last time that a train circus performed under the canvas was 1956,” she said. “This is an era that’s disappearing from memory and it’s an important part of American history. Whether you hate the circus or love the circus, it was definitely an important slice. I wanted to record it and wanted to do it right.”

“Water for Elephants” is a delightful read with characters that remain on the mind long after the last page is read.

Meet the author
Gruen will be at Park Road Books in South Charlotte on Tuesday, July 18, at 7 p.m. For more information, call 704-525-9239. Learn more about the book and its author at

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