Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

Narrated by a 90-something man, who remembers his days on a circus from Chicago during the Great Depression of the 1930s, this is a gripping and compelling tale.

Jacob Jankowski is a recently orphaned young man, who on a whim, joins the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus, and becomes the show veterinarian.  Jacob recalls how he fell in love with the beautiful equestrian performer Marlena, and how he struggled to cope with Marlena’s charismatic but evil husband.He also talks about Rosie, an elephant who seemed untrainable and unintelligent, before Jacob himself discovered the way to connect with her.

I loved this book – the harsh but colourful realities of being part of a travelling circus are vividly brought to life here, and it is clear that the book has been meticulously researched.  Apart from the four main characters (Jacob, Marlena, August and indeed Rosie the elephant), there is a wonderful cast of supporting characters, each of whom is totally believeable.

This novel combines beautiful description, while at the same time, keeping the plot moving forward at a rapid pace, and I never found myself bored.  In fact I found myself doing what I always do when I love a book – checking ahead to see if I can squeeze in just a few more pages before I really really have to put the book down.  I became interested in the characters’ lives and truly wanted to know how things turned out.  

This wonderful novel comes highly recommended – I will definitely be seeking more books by this author.

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