Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was originally published in 2006. My paperback edition is 350 pages, including an author interview and reader's guide. The synopsis of the story follows:
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.
The story progresses smoothly and it is truly an enjoyable book to read. I very highly recommend Water for Elephants and am asking myself why on earth did I wait so long to read it? rating 5
"...The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures, including an elephant who only responds to Polish commands. He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers-a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. Despite her often clich d prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book. (May 26) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information."
" 'The disaster March...means something's gone bad - real bad... Could be anything - fire in the big top, stampede, whatever...The poor rubes probably don't even know it yet.' "
"I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did - for the rest of her life and beyond. In seventy years, I've never told a blessed soul."
"Either there's been an accident of there's roadwork, because a gaggle of old ladies is glued to the window at the end of the hall like children or jailbirds. They're spidery and frail, their hair as fine as mist. Most of them are a good decade younger than me, and this astounds me."
" 'You didn't just jump a train, boy. You done jumped the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brother's Most Spectacular Show on Earth.' "
"And to this day I have no idea who they were. I know my children, don't get me wrong - but these are not my children. These are the children of my children, and their children, too, and maybe even theirs... You multiply five by four and then by five again, and it's no wonder I forget how some of them fit in."
"My brain is like a universe whose gases get thinner and thinner at the edges. But it doesn't dissolve into nothingness. I can sense something out there, just beyond my grasp, hovering, waiting..."