Sunday, January 1, 2012
Book #34 -- Water for Elephants
Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants has been immensely popular since is publication nearly six years ago. I'm not sure why I ignored it for so long, but earlier this year, when it was turned into a movie (starring none other than Twilight's Robert Pattinson -- gag), I definitely know why I continued to ignore it. Just didn't seem like my cup of tea.
I recently found out that because I'm an Amazon Prime member, I can take advantage of the new Kindle Owner's Lending Library and "borrow" some select titles for free. I was browsing through the titles, and this one was the first one I came across that I recognized. I clicked to borrow it, mostly just to see how the whole lending thing worked. I had access to it for ten days, so I thought, "Why not give it a try?" So. Glad. I did.
The story is about Jacob Jankowski, a young student in veterinary school during the Depression. After a family tragedy that forces him to miss his final exams at school, Jacob takes off and jumps a train to try to escape his shambled life. He finds himself on board with the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show On Earth. At first, the shady circus workers he encounters on the train car are threatening -- in the days of the Depression, circuses were suffering, and free-loaders looking for work weren't welcome. When they find out that Jacob has a background as a vet, they realize his talent could come in handy with the show's exotic animals. Jacob land himself a job travelling with the show and soon learns about the strange (and often horrifying) things that go on behind the scenes of a train-circus in the 1930's. He also finds himself falling for Marlena, the beauty that performs with Liberty Horses as one of the show's biggest highlights. She also happens to be married to one of the easily-angered circus bosses. As more and more circuses around the country are closing due to the economy, things get heated, and eventually the Benzini Brothers' train takes a turn for the worst.
This is such a beautiful book. Gruen is a genius, and she absolutely did her research. One of my favorite parts of this book was reading an interview with the author at the end where she talks about how deeply she delved into circus archives from the era and describing that many of the events that take place in the novel -- the ones that are either so strange or so gut-wrenchingly horrid that you can't believe they're true -- actually did happen on train circuses in America. That really adds a lot to the emotion of the book, and I kind of wish I had known it before I read it.
The novel alternates between chapters told from Jacob's perspective while he was on the circus train, and chapters told from Jacob's perspective as a 90-something-year-old man in a nursing home. It's really just... awesome. I want to say so much, but I want you to read it so you find out for yourself.
And I suppose I'll watch the movie soon. Robert Pattinson (and Reese Witherspoon, too... bleh!) make me a bit nervous, but I found out that one of the deliciously evil characters is played by Christoph Waltz, who plays one of my favorite villains ever in Inglourious Basterds, so that alone is enough for me. We'll see how it holds up.
Read from December 22, 2011 to December 30, 2011.