Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants: 7/9/09

Water for Elephants Links:Sara Gruen’s website

Author interview

Reviews on Amazon

Water for Elephants may be the most popular read we’ve had in the past several years: even CD and BC liked this one!   In this novel, Gruen has created a moving portrayal of a frail nursing home resident, and a surprising tale of his younger days as part of the cutthroat Benzini Brothers Circus.

DJ told us that reading Water for Elephants transformed the way she spent time with her stepfather during long stays in a rehabilitation hospital.  Others were reminded of their elderly family members, and the way memory ebbs and flows as time goes on.

We were impressed with Gruen’s research and the vividness of the 1930’s circus setting she created.  The brutality depicted was not gratuitous, but a seemingly realistic aspect of the time and place, and her empathy for all the creatures subject to the circus owner’s cruelty came through clearly.

We were split on the success of the alternating voices of the elderly and the youthful Jacob.  RN enthusiastically recommended the audio version, which features two actors of different ages taking any confusion out of the transition between older and younger narrators.

Tips for related reading from book club members:

Serena by Ron Rash – “a violent story about ambition, privilege, and ruthlessness played out in an Appalachian timber camp in North Carolina during the Depression.” – Library Journal

Circus by Alistair MacLean – a circus performer is recruited by the CIA in a Cold War adventure tale