Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
(Algonquin Books, $14.95, PG) ISBN 978-156512-616-9
****
While this is not a “new” book, it has recently garnered new interest because of the movie of the same name. I haven’t seen the movie, but this is an interesting book and one that while not “pure” romance, definitely has some romantic moments. It is also a very interesting look at the circus world of the 1930’s.

Jacob Jankowski has led a full life. He is 93 and is in a nursing home, missing his wife of many years, and often confused by the number of children and grandchildren that traipses through his life on weekly and sometimes, monthly visits. Jacob is often surly with the nurses, but who can blame a man when all the sudden he is dependent on people for things he used to do himself. He is particularly fond of one lovely nurse named Rosie. But she is only there part of the time.

Jacob though, was an important person in the circus one time long ago. Okay, he was just the veterinarian, but still, he was actually with the circuses that rode around the country on trains and entertained thousands of people. This is his story and that of one part of his life – when he was a member of the crew in the Benzini Bros— Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Of course, it isn’t Ringling, but the owner, Uncle Al, sure wants it to be. He has a menagerie of animals, a fat lady, a bearded lady and many of the traditional acts. He wants an elephant though and is determined to get one. Now that he has a veterinarian, he feels like he can get that too. And the elephant he gets is not what he expected. But for Jacob, the elephant is a catalyst for many things in his life.

The supporting cast is varied and as eccentric as their names: Blackie, the leader of the roadies; Camel, one of Jacob’s first friends on the train; Crazy Joe, who hires on the help; Kinko, the dwarf who hates then learns to like Jacob and then there is Marlena, the gallant lady who rides horses bareback and her husband August, who takes care of the menagerie and is essentially Jacob’s boss.

Jacob falls for Marlena, even though she is married and theirs is an unrequited love. But the book is full of their growing attraction and the friendships that Jacob makes. He was a student at Cornell and was about to take his exams to finish Vet school when his parents were killed in an auto accident and his life turned upside down. The story goes from present day to the past. It is an interesting story and one that will at times, raise your hackles. The circus life was not an easy life, but it was a life that involved living.

If you are looking for something different from traditional romances, this just might fit the bill.

--Shirley Lyons


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