(Originally published on my LiveJournal, with a few edits.)
It was last year when Blooey and I were scouring the sale bins at National Bookstore (back when it was still at its more accessible location in Glorietta 2), when she thrust a hardcover copy of Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” into my arms. “It’s a very good read,” she reassures me. At P49.50 for a hardcover copy, I figured I’d get it, even if I wasn’t sure I’d liked it. (I’ve never encountered Sara Gruen before this, and I certainly haven’t heard of the book. )
Admittedly, the book kept getting pushed down the To Be Read pile. Only when I found out that Robert Pattinson was cast in a movie remake of that book did I seriously consider moving it up the pile. (Purists be purists, but I do appreciate a good movie remake of a book—look at what Peter Jackson did to LOTR. I don’t think I could finish the book without the movie.)
Going back to the elephants, I actually finished the book not a long time ago. Surprise, surprise, I actually enjoyed it.
“Water for Elephants” tells the story of Jacob Jankowski, both as a ninetysomething in a nursing home, struggling with having a strong mind and a weak body, and as a twentysomething that walked out of his final exams at Cornell following his parents’ death, only to find himself aboard a circus train. Most of the book focuses on Jacob’s stint in the traveling circus (working with the animals and doing all the dirty work quite literally), interspersed with his older self recalling such memories and longing for a tinge of adventure he once had.
The book offers a glimpse of circus life outside the ring—the division between big bosses, performers, and regular workmen and the hardships aboard the train, compounded by the effects of the Great Depression and Prohibition. It also tells of Jacob’s great love story with the beautiful Marlena and his friendship with Rosie, an elephant deemed useless until he discovers that she understands commands only in Polish.
Life in the circus could be a circus in itself, oftentimes uncertain, with tragedy and violence lurking behind the sparkles. At a time when surviving becomes a struggle, Jacob and Marlena find themselves making drastic decisions that could reverse their fortunes forever.
“Water for Elephants” is both poignant, romantic, at times heartbreaking and frustrating—a thoroughly enjoyable read. And yes, I can’t wait to see the movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Here’s a sneak peak: