Book Review: “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants, written by Sara Gruen, is a novel worth reading. It is an intriguing tale of life under the big top and a behind the scenes peek at the inner workings of a traveling circus train during the 1930’s. Whether you have experienced one of these traveling circus trains or have seen a modern day circus, “Water for Elephants” will sweep you right back to those days when you were awed by the lions, monkeys, elephants, clowns and lively music of the circus!


Gruen said in the forward that she did extensive research on the history of the traveling circus and it shows in the novel. Gruen has written a novel so compelling, vivid, and detailed it is hard to put down.

“Water for Elephants” is parlayed by Jacob Jankowski, who knows the workings of the traveling circus inside and out. Why? Because he was there, quite by accident as you will find out, but nevertheless he worked and traveled with the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth! Now 90 plus, Jacob is in a nursing facility, grumpy when awake, and reliving his circus days when asleep, thus sharing his memories with us the readers, through his dreams.

Jankowski’s life was a full one with the circus. You will learn about love, marriage, domestic cruelty, animal cruelty, love and respect for animals, camaraderie, trust, work ethic, drinking, carousing, along with faithfulness, enduring love, freaks, midgets, rubes, roustabouts, violence and murder all co-existing. Get ready for a fast and fascinating read.

Two dynamic tales told in one book, one of Jankowski’s existence as an aging nursing home patient and two, his life with the circus. History buffs will appreciate the novel and research done by the author. Gruen truly captures and reveals a lost world, emotional and full of dark secrets.

Characters such as Marlena, Jacob, Big Al, August, Camel, Kinko the midget, and Barbara behind the hooch- cooch tent, you will never forget after reading this novel. You will become entwined in their interesting lives and feel as though you have known them forever before you finish your read.

After you read this book, you will understand why “Water for Elephants” is a bestseller, for sure!


Author: Sara Gruen- “Water for Elephants” the book and soon to be movie

personal opinion…

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