Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is an amazing book. If you read any one section of it, you might think it was a depressing book. And mostly, it is. But somehow, out of this depressing litany of events, Ms. Gruen creates an uplifting book.
Jacob Jankowski is weeks away from graduating from veterinary school at Cornell in 1932 when his parents are killed in an automobile accident. After learning that all their possessions have been repossessed by the bank that foreclosed their mortgage when they died, he hops a train that passes in the night. Unwittingly, he has run away with the circus.
Not just any circus, the Benzini Brothers Circus has been built up from nothing (and buying up the remains of circuses that go broke in these early years of the Depression) by the sadistic Uncle Al. Jacob soon finds himself the show veterinarian (despite his lack of a formal degree) and protector of those who cannot protect themselves from Uncle Al and the seriously disturbed equestrian director, Albert Rosenbluth.
Told in flashbacks over a weekend in the life of now ninety-three year old Jacob, Water for Elephants is disturbing yet uplifting. At the end, Jacob finds for a second time the happiness he searches for.
Five out of five stars.