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Vettä elefanteille by Sara Gruen

Vettä elefanteille (original 2006; edition 2008)

by Sara Gruen, Anna-Maija Viitanen

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
21,119100867 (4.08)1 / 776
Title:Vettä elefanteille
Authors:Sara Gruen
Other authors:Anna-Maija Viitanen
Info:[Helsinki] Bazar 2008.
Collections:Your library
Tags:2012 luettu, kaunokirjallisuus, yhdysvallat, sirkus, eläinlääkärit, romantiikka

Work details

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)

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English (980)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  Norwegian (2)  Danish (2)  French (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Finnish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  All languages (1,000)
Showing 1-5 of 980 (next | show all)
The Basics

The story follows Jacob Jankowski, ninety-three years young and living in a nursing home. He is haunted by memories of his twenty-three-year-old self and the circumstances that dictated he had no choice but to runaway with the circus. That circus being simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to him.

My Thoughts

I love circus stories. I’m discovering this, this book being part of that discovery. There’s something, even sans magic or fantasy elements, that is very fantastical about running away with the circus. About Jacob’s story and how his life did a complete one-eighty and resulted in his being swept up in what was an alien world for him. That’s one of the things this book does well, illustrating the ways that being part of that world for Jacob was like traveling to a foreign country, having to learn a new language and new customs.

Another thing I want to emphasize that this book has going for it: a good sense of humor. I think that’s where the whimsy comes through. Gruen isn’t afraid to make fun even during a serious moment, and it gives the book a lightness that is prevalent throughout. No, it isn’t Shakespeare. It doesn’t need to be. It’s a feel good book that does its job: it makes you feel good.

I will say that there is one thing that brought the experience down for me. Unconvincing romance. The entertainment industry has become saturated and infatuated with love at first sight. That’s a romantic notion, I can’t fault them there. What I can fault this book for in particular is that characters have to speak to each other eventually, and these two don’t really. And when they speak, they have to talk about things that make sense of why they love one another. The most that can be said is Jacob suffered from a severe hero complex that made him feel obligated to rescue Marlena at every turn, but otherwise they had little in common that justified their relationship.

The great thing being that the book is not so obsessed with the romance that it doesn’t have more to offer. Rosie the elephant, for instance, was an adorable highlight. Most of the animals were, in fact. Walter and Camel were a couple of my favorite side characters that got a good deal of time devoted to them. August is a pretty interesting villain. Things that make for a balanced book that I personally enjoyed.

Final Rating

4/5 ( )
  Nickidemus | Sep 18, 2014 |
This book was marginal. The only reason it has any stars is because the description of the circus was fun to read about. The characters seemed to be an afterthought. It could have been better had Gruen attempted to make an effort toward developing her plot. I put the book down and I had no idea what I had read. ( )
  Rosenstern | Sep 14, 2014 |
Just as he is about to graduate with an Ivy League degree in veterinary medicine, Jacob Jankowski's life is turned upside down by the death of his parents and the loss of his future. Jumping a circus train, Jacob starts a whole new life.

This was an entertaining book but I was disappointed because I didn't feel it lived up to the hype around it. It just seemed to be the same old boy runs off to the circus story to me. ( )
  cyderry | Sep 7, 2014 |
Jacob Jankowski is an old man in his 90s living out the remainder of his days in a nursing home. His children rarely come to visit, and he's both lonely and frustrated by nursing home life. But when the circus comes to town one day, it triggers Jacob's memories of his youth and the years he spent with the Benzini Brothers Greatest Show on Earth. In the 1930s, Jacob was a promising veterinary student who was about to join his father's practice; but after his parents' tragic death, the practice had to be sold to pay the family debts. Bereft and with nowhere to go, Jacob hopped a train that turned out to belong to a traveling circus; and because of his veterinary skills, the ruthless circus owner decided to keep him around. At the circus Jacob met a variety of new people, including a sarcastic dwarf, a mercurial animal trainer, and the trainer's beautiful but trapped wife. Eventually his involvement with the circus would trigger a series of shocking and catastrophic events.

I remember that when this book first came out, a lot of my friends were raving about it, convinced that I'd absolutely love it. Unfortunately, I didn't have that experience...maybe I'm missing something, but this book just didn't resonate with me. I really enjoyed the setting; circus life in Depression-era America was fascinating, and I liked the photos of real historical circuses that preceded each chapter. It's truly amazing to think about the amount of work (and food!) it took to keep the circus going! But I wasn't that nuts about the plot or characters in this book. The main story is the romance between Jacob and Marlena, a performer who is trapped in an unhappy marriage. But while her menacing husband is an interesting (albeit repulsive), larger-than-life character, Marlena herself seems very bland, with no defining qualities other than her beauty and her misery. I also didn't find Jacob particularly interesting; he acts like a stock character rather than an individual. Overall, the book is worth reading if you're interested in the setting, but in my opinion it doesn't live up to the hype.
1 vote christina_reads | Sep 4, 2014 |
I have always enjoyed circus stories, both written and on film, so I was anticipating a great read with Water For Elephants, a circus romance set in the 1930’s. But this was not a Disney tale with a kindly ringmaster, a manly and noble trainer and a glamorous bareback rider. Instead the ringmaster was cruel and conniving, the animal trainer was downright psycho and dangerous, and unfortunately, the bareback rider came across a little flat and colorless. Why our runaway young veterinarian fell in love with Marlena remained a mystery to me throughout the whole book.

The color and thrills were certainly there in the setting and I loved reading about this shabby, travelling outfit that turned into the glamorous and exciting Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show On Earth once the big top had risen and the band were playing. The depression era was a time of hardship and these travelling shows brought glamour, commotion and pizzazz to small-town America. Of course this was also a time that folks expected a lot of entertainment for their money and if they didn’t feel they got their money’s worth, they were quick to run these performers out of town.

I loved many things about this book, both the side characters and animals that peopled this story were memorable, the setting was fantastic, the story was inventive. For me the book’s downfall was in the romance. I just didn’t find Jacob and Marlena a believable couple. I would have found it more realistic if Marlena was simply using Jacob as a mean of escape from the horrible situation that she was in. I did like the format of hearing about Jacob’s youth from his ninety-three year old self and I though the ending was fun but a little contrived.

So for me, Water For Elephants was a good read, but not a great one. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Aug 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 980 (next | show all)
It's a favorite of book clubs and reading groups, and is supposedly rife with parallels between the protagonist, Jacob Jankowski and Jacob, grandson of Abraham, in the Bible. I wish one of you would tell me what they are. They are not obvious to me, other than a cryptic "Jacob's ladder" parallel to the ladder on the train cars that give access to the roof and that will be important late in the story. What is obvious to me is this is a book about memory, something elephants are famous for and something humans are famous for treating as reliable when it isn't.
added by paradoxosalpha | editDaily Kos, Limelite (Jul 28, 2011)
WOW! This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for longer than I care to admit. Something about it drew me in enough to buy it but there always seemed to be something else that I would rather be reading so, it sat and sat and sat. I am so glad that I finally challenged myself to read it because it has to be one of my favourite books in a LOOOOOOONG time. What a great story.

While I know that the book is a work of fiction, it really did feel like I was right there, in the circus, with Jacob, Marlena and August. I could see each of them (and of course Jacob was as yummy as Edward ~Robert Pattinson~), I could touch the animals, hear the music and feel the crunch of the peanuts beneath my feet. I loved that each of the chapters started with a picture showing the history of the circus because it brought me to the right time frame in my mind. The movement between Jacob as a 90 (or 93) year old in a nursing home and Jacob as a man in his early 20's were seemless. In some novels past, the 'current' story seemed forced and very out of place but here, it was a welcome part of the story.

Overall, I feel like this is a book that anyone would enjoy. Whether you are an adult, a child, a tween, a senior, this book will delight you! It is a fast, fun read. Please pick it up and spend some time aboard the train with the 'Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth'.
At its finest, "Water for Elephants" resembles stealth hits like "The Giant's House," by Elizabeth McCracken, or "The Lovely Bones," by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. But Gruen's prose is merely serviceable, and she hurtles through cataclysmic events, overstuffing her whiplash narrative with drama (there's an animal stampede, two murders and countless fights).
What goes on under the big top is nothing compared with the show backstage.
added by Shortride | editTime, Lev Grossman (Jul 16, 2006)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sara Gruenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, John RandolphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LeDoux, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manson,CharlesJacket Photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werner, Honijacket designsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I meant what I said, and I said what I meant...
An elephant's faithful--one hundred per cent!
--Theodor Seuss Geisel, Horton Hatches the Egg, 1940
For Bob, still my secret weapon
First words
I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.
Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. (Prologue)
The idea for this book came unexpectedly: In early 2003 I was gearing up to write an entirely different book when the Chicago Tribune ran an article on Edward J. Kelty, a photographer who followed traveling circuses around America in the 1920s and '30s. (Author's Note)
Is where you’re from the place you’re leaving or where you have roots?
I wasn’t aware of dozing, but that’s how it goes these days. I seem to slip in and out of time and space.
With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Jacob Jankowski is left without money and family when his parents are killed suddenly in an automobile accident. He leaves veterinarian school right before he finishes his final exam and accidentally becomes the veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers Circus. There he meets Rosie the Elephant and Marlene, a beautiful (and married) performer in the circus.
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No descriptions found.

A novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932. When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.--From publisher description.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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Group Read (August): Water for Elephants in 2014 Category Challenge

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