Friday, January 18, 2008

Literary Goodness: Water for Elephants

It's been a while since I've caught the reading bug but in the last couple months I've been on a reading frenzy. I'm waiting to review my First Thursdays book, Songs of the Humpback Whale, until we actually meet (my fault, long story) but I will go ahead and give you a peek at the one I just finished, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

This book is really a delight. I read it so fast and it was one of those books you just are so sad to finish because you hate to leave the friends you've made in the characters. I actually picked this book up because of the subject matter (a traveling circus during the Great Depression). In fact, since there was no book blurb on the back cover that was all I knew before I started it. It was a risky decision, but I think it made the whole book more of an adventure.

The book follows the life of Jacob Jankowski a Polish-American veterinary student whose life takes a crazy turn when tragedy strikes his family. What follows is his entry into the foreign and complex world of the traveling circus. I have to say, I never gave circuses too much thought or much credit for being a real business venture. But, if Gruen's novel has any basis in reality (and it seems credible enough to me) then the world of the traveling circus was very much a world of complex social mores and drama. I suppose any time you collect a group of such eccentric characters and performers you are bound to have drama ensue. And these characters were no exception. Though some people might think the book moves too slow at points, it is the depth of the character development that really drives the book. Even when the action seems a bit slow the reader finds themselves just enjoying hearing about the lives of the characters. It gives the reader the feeling of catching up with a new friend. Perhaps most surprising of all is the book's unlikely heroine. A beautiful and silent character that seems to serve as an almost omnipresent figure in the book. She exists in the midst of everything, often driving the conflict, but with seemingly little control over the events surrounding her. She is, at once, the most powerful and powerless character in the book.

If you are looking for a thrilling trip back into one of the most fascinating times in American history don't miss out on this book...I loved it!

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