Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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I just read Water for Elephants for no reason other than the movie trailer looked pretty good, and I wanted to be able to say, yes, I read the book, if anybody asked after I saw the movie. I could not answer in the affirmative after the Harry Potter movies or the Percy Jackson movie or the Inkheart movie.
I have been tired of being the movie-going reading teacher who didn't much go in for reading books, so I have been setting myself right. I am glad I did with this one because it had me asking the same questions The Hunger Games had me asking. (Maybe I'm destined to read books witht his theme until I figure out an answer or something like an answer from these texts.)
The questions: Why are people cruel? and Why do people put up with cruel people shaping their lives by maiming their lives? In other words, why don't we naturally insist on freedom and peace?
Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen has main character Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell-educated veterinarian who has not yet sat his exams because his parents died in a car crash shortly before he was scheduled to take them, working with a carnival during the Depression. His cross-country train journey with the carnival takes him deep into the world of self-loathing, disappointment, betrayal, convenient friendship, and back-stabbing like there's no tomorrow. At the center of that world is the woman named Marlena who becomes the love of his life and an elephant named Rosie who understands Polish. Both these ladies suffer beyond belief at the hands of August, Marlena's husband, the equestrian manager of the circus, and a paranoid schizophrenic whose physical and emotional abuse of anyone and everyone is terrifying.
Only reluctantly did I put the book down whenever Rosie or Marlena became August's whipping posts. I wondered when Jacob would protect his women. It wasn't enough he felt bad later for not standing up for Marlena or Rosie. When would Jacob live up to his potential and do right?
Which situation led me to wonder why some people are cruel and why so many others put up with them. No answers yet. I'll keep reading.
Gruen paints a world within a world when she draws the Depression-era carnival with her words. Its a tough place with a strict social order and very little hope for more or better. People are not diminished for holding onto what they have but for holding on at all costs. Time and time again, this novel shows that this kind of holding on is not worth it. Nevertheless, the hopelessness spawned by the Depression make moral compromises seem reasonable, logical.
Water for Elephants is Jacob's memoir of his circus days. A nursing home inmate whose spirit refuses to be shackled to the home's waiting for death raison d'etre, he recounts his story 70 years or more after the fact, beginning with his nursing home experiences to a very sympathetic audience. Life is not over for Jacob.
This is a story of personal freedom that asks what price a person is willing to pay for it. The price really is nothing alongside the cost of enduring abuse
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