Friday, April 30, 2010


I've decided that once a month I am going to review a book. Sometimes it will be fiction, sometimes it will be life helps, etc. My life here is marked by (among other things)several books always open lying around the house. Lorraine follows me around and asks politely if I am currently reading this book as well as the three others by my bed.

This month I have just finished reading "Like Water For Elephants", a novel by Sara Gruen, set in Post-depression America, about the big top circus (NOT Ringling Brothers) in other words, the circus equivalent for "Off-Broadway". It is amazing, and I think many of you would enjoy.

We have a saying here "like water for an elephant" which means a useless gesture. Loosely translated, it means a that there is a certain uselessness to give someone who is VERY poor anything - for the very reason that it will never be enough. The elephants in the wild travel in herds and are usually the first to suck a water hole dry. The metaphor is complete implying the uselessness of bringing a thirsty elephant a bucket of water, or several, to quench its thirst.

As soon as I saw the big top cover I was even more interested. I read once that when circus elephants arrived in a town, many kids would gather and offer to bring water to the elephant so it could drink and they may be rewarded with free tickets. Maybe this was it?? The figure of a man entering a Big top from the side flap, only to see a figure looking in from the main door struck me as if it were something I was not supposed to see. This was the beginning of a mezmerizing journey....

In post-depression America, Jacob Jankowski, a bound-for-glory, then displaced graduate student who tragically loses his parents, home and future in the first breath of the story, is our 23 year old hero that we instantly like and feel sorry for. He impulsively, almost accidentally, joins a circus, instantly realizing how destitute he is. Hard work, hideous living conditions, a life on the rails, BUT food...becomes his reality. In the world that he (and we) is new to, he is forced to see and witness more than meets the normal spectator's eye. In no time we all face the reality of running a circus instead of watching one.

The screeching of brakes against rails; railcars stuffed with wild and exotic animals as well as straw, manure, closely knit sleeping quarters; townfolk (or Rubes) that come to the show; sensuality, sex, alcoholism; and Uncle Al, the Ringleader/owner/cheat/boss extrordinairre, are just for suckers! These are only the backdrop of a magnificent story. Interwoven is the love, the man, the compassion of caretakers. Jacob. Marlena. August.

I have to admit that I was surprised and pleased at the ending that the author gives many clues leading up to, but I never got. It is, as a matter of fact, what made me really love the book. The title is the bullhook of what will later prove to be useless information. The payoff at the end is worth it... and makes you want to research the whole history yourself.

A dramatic story with incredible insight and scene recreation, at times I would come to the end of a chapter, look around and remember that I was here, not there.