Water for elephants by Sara Gruen

A review by Penny

Sara Gruen’s third novel continues her equestrian theme through Marlena, the horse trainer and rider attached to the circus billed as the Most Spectacular Show on Earth. The real heroine of the book, however, is Rosie, the elephant. This multi-award winning book, first published in 2006, is told through the reminiscences of Jacob Jankowski now in his ninties, living in a nursing home, vividly remembering joining the Benzini Brothers circus in his twenties. Having suffered a personal tragedy he ran away and had jumped onto the circus train. His relationship with Al, the owner of the circus, a man by turns violent and charming, Marlena, Al’s wife, with whom Jacob falls in love, all the strange and wonderful circus characters, the animals and of course, Rosie, a very special elephant with an interesting problem, is explored with humour, pathos and an exciting build up to the impending tragedy as the tale reaches its climax.

Although a work of fiction Gruen’s research into the world of circuses, both historical and those of today depicts a colourful and flamboyant group of characters and events. As Gruen has Jacob say in his prologue, ‘Make yourself at home boys and stay awhile’.