Aug 1, 2011

About Books Blog 45: Water for Elephants


Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction/General Fiction

Favorite Line

“I wanted to absorb her and walk around for the rest of my days with her encased in my skin.”

Summary (from Goodreads)

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out - orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive 'ship of fools'. It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act - in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

My Thoughts

I read this way back in April. (Yes, I am that behind in my reviews.) I thought I would go ahead and try to finish this book a couple weeks before the movie came out on April 22. I did in fact finish it very quickly. It helped that it was an awesome book. There was so much to love about Water for Elephants. It is a perfect mixture of drama, action, love story, comedy, and historical insight.

The author had the innate ability to make you feel a closeness with the three primary characters. Jacob’s character was so wonderful to read. In his old age he is just hilarious, in his younger years he is simply endearing. I loved Marlena for having a personality that was so opposite of what you think a circus performer is going to be like. Of course, who wouldn’t love the elephant, Rosie. You have to love animals in books, it’s a requirement. Now that I think about it something I enjoyed most about the book was the relationship dynamics in general. Not just between Jacob and Marlena, but between the other friends and foes in the circus.

The plot was exciting which made this book hard to put down. I wanted know what would happen next. I wanted to know how certain characters were going to get out of the quagmires they had created for themselves. The historical element was as always interesting to me, and enriched the story. I liked that the story went back a forth from modern day to the past. It gave you a new experience once and awhile.

Water for Elephants was certainly a great read. It’s heartbreaking and funny at the same time. I would definitely suggest it to my friends and followers alike.

Facts I Found Interesting

In the back of my copy of Water for Elephants there is an interview with author Sara Gruen. If you want interesting facts you should check it out. One amusing fact is that until she started research for the book Sara Gruen has never actually been to a circus. Another fun fact I found on Wikipedia was that she originally started the novel for National Novel Writing Month.

The Movie

In comparison with the awesomeness that was the book the movie was disappointing. I’ve noticed a new trend in book to film adaptations. It’s almost as if the film makers just piece together stand alone scenes for two hours, as opposed to creating a cohesive story with scenes that propel from one event to the next. I noticed that this happened with Water for Elephants and several other recent books made into film. I can’t say that I like it. No matter how well acted or written these individual scenes may be, it still makes the film very hard to relate to. I think it’s even more difficult for movie viewers who have not read the book to identify with the material. In addition, the fact that the film doesn’t propel itself makes the entire movie lay there like a wet noodle. You start to get the feeling that nothing exciting is going to happen, and when something finally does it's not very satisfying.

In my opinion the film version of Water for Elephants was not helped by the many completely inane changes they made from the book. I was particularly incensed that they altered Marlena’s entire back story. This was not only unnecessary, but made her character unrelatable, and effected the her relationship with Jacob in a negative way. I hated was that they combined Marlena’s abusive husband, August, and the circus owner Uncle Al in to one character. This distorted the dynamic and build up of the story. It would be different if these changes actually benefited the film, but I felt like they actually hurt the movie in the big scheme of things. To add to all of this they pretty much sucked the humor out of the story. Why must film makers now in days suck all the humor in the book out and make it clinically depressed? I don’t get it. Isn’t the point to imitate life. Real people have sarcasm when things go wrong and laugh once in awhile for pity’s sake. The book had so many great naturally funny moments. It would have been great if some of that had ended up in the film. Instead it end up with a lot of forced attempts at hilarity and attempts at jokes that weren't funny at all. Even some of the hair and costuming choices got on my nerves. Sigh...I sound like I really hated the movie, when in fact it was really okay. Not great but okay. It had some good points. The acting was good. It had some nice cinematography. However, at the end of the day the things that bothered me out weighed the good things. I just couldn’t enjoy it the way I wanted to.

Music To Read By

Well the only album I remember listening to was Lights by Ellie Goulding. I think I liked it because the effects on the songs sound very circus-ish. Other that I usually read this during breaks at work. Which in short means I listened to what ever music was playing while another dance teacher was teacher was teaching, so usually ballet music.

Water for Elephants Playlist

Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying - Belle and Sebastian
Water for the Elephants - Dan Zanes & Friends ft. Donald Saaf
Upside Down - Paloma Faith
Rosie - James Newton Howard
Stardust - Ian Brown
Little Drop of Poison - Tom Waits
Starry Eyed - Ellie Goulding
Blue Sunday - The Doors
If I'm Saying Nothing - Landon Pigg
Embers of Love - Imogen Heap

That's it darlings. I'll see you later with the short story of the week. Keep it shiny!

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