Sunday, October 30, 2011

Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)

From the jacket:

Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train -- and inadvertently runs away with the circus. Thrown into the chaos of a second-rate travelling show, Jacob is adrift in a world of freaks, swindlers, and misfits.

Jacob uses his veterinary skills in the circus menagerie and becomes a savior for the animals he so loves, including a baffling elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the enchanting star of the equestrian act -- and the wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need for belonging, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down.

This book was highly recommended by some friends from an online-photography forum I frequent. As you can see by the title page, this book was popular enough to be made into a well-reviewed movie this year, starring A-list actors. I was definitely intrigued.

Unfortunately, I emphatically cannot recommend this book, regardless of how well-written or fascinating it may be. In fact, I made it no further than 1/3 of the way through the book before putting it away for good...and I should have put it away sooner. The language is appalling. Unabashed swearing and cursing, and explicit descriptions of a strip show, masturbation, and so on.

This is one book that should definitely not grace our shelves.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly! I threw my book away. The movie is supposedly a lot better.

  2. Things I liked about Water for Elephants:
    - the honest portrayal of the elderly. Sometimes we forget that they were young once too. The nurse and the circus master who help Jacob relive the past are heroes to me.
    - the clear illustrations of the desperation of the Depression Era. With the economic crisis of today, we can be more sympathetic...
    - the faithfulness of Jacob and Marlena. In this world of easy come - easy go marriage, I found myself cheering for Jacob and Marlena and their happily ever after.
    - the world can be really ugly: to find beauty and love in the midst of that ugliness is still magic to me.

  3. Agreed, Tessa. That's why I really struggled with putting the book away when I really wanted to finish reading it. Then we had a sermon on LD 33 yesterday, which really convicted me. One thing the minister said in particular made me decide right then that I would go home after church and write the above review. Referring to Q&A 89 about the dying of the old nature, ("...and more and more to hate it and to flee from it..."), he reminded us that we don't just ask God to forgive us our sins, we are also called upon to FLEE from sin, and that means to turn our backs on anything that tempts us to sin. Thinking of the language and the explicit descriptions in the book, I could no longer justify finishing it, and I stand by my conviction that it is not a book for us to read.

  4. PS While the romantic in me wants to agree with your third and fourth points, the fact that their relationship began as an extra-marital affair definitely tarnishes it for me. No matter how awful her husband was, as she said, she made her bed, and now she has to lie in it.


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