Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Book Review

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants - Courtesy Algonquin Books.

The Bottom Line

The pages of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen burst with rich descriptions and action. You will be drawn into the world of ringmasters, elephants and sideshows. You will also experience the world of nursing homes and old age. You will not want to put Water for Elephants down, and when it is over, you will want more.


  • Water for Elephants is a great story from start to finish.
  • It has interesting, well-developed characters.
  • It is a well-researched glimpse into circus life during the Great Depression.


  • I don't have a con.


  • Jacob is orphaned during the Great Depression.
  • Jacob runs off with a circus.
  • Glitz, glamour, murder and mayhem under the Big Top.
  • Seventy something years later, Jacob finally tells his story.
  • From train to tent to nursing home, the pages turn.

Guide Review - Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - Book Review

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen opens with a day of disaster at the circus and Jacob Jankowski admitting he kept a secret from that day for over 70 years. The novel then moves to the ninety-something year old Jacob in a nursing home. As the older Jacob fights to survive the indignities of old age he recounts the story of his life with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on earth.

Water for Elephants moves between the story of the traveling circus in 1930 to the story of the older Jacob’s fight to maintain sanity.

While most of Water for Elephants is about the circus, the chapters about the older Jacob provide a depth to the novel and a poignancy to the story that makes the whole book richer and more real.

Gruen researched circuses and animal behavior extensively before writing Water for Elephants. Her careful work manifests itself in writing that is descriptive, easy-to-read and made me feel as if I were part of the circus community.

From the whistle of the train to the burn of moonshine against the back of the throat, Gruen engages all the reader’s senses.

I fell in love (and hate) with many of the characters as well. As the adventure and details of Jacob’s secret unfolds, it is impossible not to become attached to Jacob, Walter, Bobo, Rosie, Marlena.

I highly recommend Water for Elephants.

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