Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

Sara Gruen moved to the United States from Canada in 1999 for a technical writing job. When she was laid off two years later, she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. A devoted animal lover, her first novel, Riding Lessons, explored the intimate and often healing spaces between people and animals and was a USA Today bestseller. She wrote a second novel, Flying Changes, also about horses.

Gruen’s first two novels, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, have sold several hundred thousands of copies; “Riding Lessons” was a best seller. Her third release, Water for Elephants, was initially turned down by her publisher at the time, Avon Books, a HarperCollins imprint, forcing Gruen to find another publisher.

Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants has become a bestselling novel. It tells the story of Jacob, a young man tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth (a circus), and Rosie, the untrainable elephant. This instant #1 New York Times bestseller is now available in 44 languages and has over 3 million copies in print worldwide. The movie version, set for release in 2011, is in the works, starring Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, and Robert Pattinson .

Sara Gruen’s awards include the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year Award, the Cosmo Fun Fearless Fiction Award, the Bookbrowse Diamond Award for Most Popular Book, the Friends of American Literature Adult Fiction Award and the ALA/Alex Award 2007. Sara Gruen lives in North Carolina with her husband, children, horses, dogs, cats, and goat.


When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, 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.

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.

As the memories begin, Jacob Jankowski is twenty-three years old and preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the news that his parents were killed in a car accident. Jacob’s father was a veterinarian and Jacob had planned to join his practice.

The major themes explored in this novel include circus life during the depression (Gruen did extensive research on the subject, the testing of a man’s moral compass, self worth, mental illnesses, acting on emotions, illusion vs. reality, and love triangles.

Water – A symbol of purification which is portrayed many times. Before Jacob jumps on the train the book states:

When I first submerged my feet into frigid water, they hurt so badly I yanked them out again. I persisted, dunking them for longer and longer periods, until the cold finally blistered.

Train tracks – Are a symbol of choosing one’s direction in life. For instance, the book states:

This is so odd…I’m running beside a moving train in the middle of nowhere.

Lively with historical detail and unexpected turns…Water for Elephants is a rich surprise, a delightful gem springing from a fascinating footnote to history that absolutely deserves to be mined.

–The Denver Post.

A gripping story that invites us to stop for a moment, look around us, recognize what we have and love and value every moment of our lives. Love what you have and what we have or with whom we represent, I believe, one of the biggest keys to happiness. And on the contrary to be for life and wanting to see what other beings have, makes us so devoid of any value and so poor in spirit, in which the soul cries loudly contained in that body.



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