Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is another one of those books I picked up on the last day of my last travels in the US. I had been through the Barnes and Noble nearby several times, picked this up and looked at is at least a dozen times, then put it down, just not that interested. On the last day, who knows why, I bought it and stuck it in my outer pocket of my suitcase. Maybe it was the only thing I could see that would fit, I don’t know. I had rejected it so many times before.

It hasn’t even been on my night stand, the books I really really intend to read. It has been on a shelf of books I will read someday when I don’t have anything else to do. Every now and then, it caught my eye. The Zanzibar Chest was on the same shelf. . . and that turned out to be a pretty good book. So recently, after I had read some books I had to read but were a little dry, and a couple books I wanted to read which were a little light, I grabbed Water for Elephants.

That was day before yesterday. I couldn’t put it down. I had a whole list of things to get done yesterday, but once I started Water for Elephants, I was lost, totally immersed in the tawdry world of circuses, bound in the magic of the illusion and performances, mesmerized by what goes on behind the scenes to make the spectacular possible.

The main character loses his parents in a totally unnecessary car accident just as he is about to take his final exams in Veterinary Science, at Cornell University. (You might think I am throwing in too much useless detail here, but it matters.) Stunned by the triple loss of both his parents, and the discovery that they had hocked everything to the bank to fund his education, he blanks on his exams and hits the road, ending up with a second rate circus.

What is so amazing about this author is that once you start reading, you are THERE.

The above mentioned Zanzibar Chest keeps you hooked by it’s painfullness, but for both AdventureMan and myself, we never liked the author, we found him a little full of himself. It doesn’t take away from the Zanzibar Chest being a worthy read, and unforgettable read.

Water for Elephants, on the other hand, has a hero you love to love. In a world of strict boundaries, a heirarchical social structure, he manages to cross all the boundaries. He truly loves the animals, and in one scene, that love just radiates, emanates, it illuminates the book from the inside, and makes you feel light and crazy with that same sort of love, love of the whole of creation. Jakob is loyal to his friends, and loyal even to his enemies, he is sacrificial in his loyalty, and, in the end, he is vastly and abundantly rewarded for his good character.

There is something for everyone, just like a circus. Like a circus, too, it has illusions, it distracts with one hand while the trick is performed with another, there is sensuality, there is sexuality, there are photos from old circuses. There are things which could offend just about every sensibility; there is kindness, there is cruelty, justice and injustice and cosmic justice. Sometimes you just have to suspend judgement and go with the read. This is one of those books.

I would say this is one of the finest reading experiences I have had for a long time. Brava, Sara Gruen. Worth every penny.

I’ve told AdventureMan as soon as he finishes The Zanzibar Chest, he has to start Water for Elephants. I can hardly wait. It’s that good.

You can find Water for Elephants in paperback at for $8.37 + shipping.

May 2, 2008 - Posted by | Books, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Entertainment, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Marketing, Mating Behavior, Music, Pets, Poetry/Literature, Uncategorized, Zanzibar | ,


  1. thanks for the link 🙂

    Comment by Yousef | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  2. try pillars of the earth ..unbelieveble..its on ny times bestseller list now…and u read the books i read along time b4 u …so u will love it im sure.

    Comment by pink | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  3. Yousef – to Amazon? to the Zanzibar Chest?

    Pink – no kidding! Mine stay on the shelf too long for me to be au courant 😉

    I read Pillers of the Earth about ten years ago? more? when it came out. It was SO good. Read the follow up this last year and now I am eager to read Pillars once again – I remember it being full of details.

    Comment by intlxpatr | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  4. To amazon 🙂 I saved it in my cart for now until I find 2 or 3 more things to buy so I can get them all at once 😀

    Comment by Yousef | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  5. Really? Interesting.. I haven’t read something that makes me feel this way since the last harry potter books.. lol I know I am just nuts over these books..

    But really, I WANT to read something very engaging..

    Comment by ::: ShoSho ::: | May 2, 2008 | Reply

  6. OK, Yousef, now I get it. I agree with Pink, you also might want to add Pillars of the Earth, if you haven’t already read it.

    ShoSho – I hope you enjoy it . . . you might find it a little dark. It’s behind the scenes in the circus, where the illusions are stripped away. Not a book to read aloud to your little ones! ;-x

    Comment by intlxpatr | May 3, 2008 | Reply

  7. […] picked this up and looked at is at least a dozen times, then put it down, just not that interest and S.C. State: Studying at university here, two see progress in textbook link The Times […]

    Pingback by zanzibar | May 8, 2008 | Reply

  8. I’m reading ‘Water for the elephants’ now and there is a part that I totally don’t get… I’m gonna write it up:

    “Performers and bosses get two buckets apiece; more, if you’re willing to grease the water man’s palm’ he says, rubbing his fingers and thumb. ‘I’ll also set you up with the Monday Man and see about getting you another set of clothes’
    ‘The Monday Man?’
    ‘What day did your mother do the washing, Jacob?’
    I stare at him. ‘Surely you don’t mean–‘
    ‘All that wash hanging up on lines. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.’
    ‘Never you mind, Jacob. If you don’t want to know the answer to a question, don’t ask….”

    What does the man mean by monday man and the clothes and what his mother washing the clothes got to do with it and why is Jacob so surprised? I don’t get it!!!!

    I know it will turn out to be nothing a 7 year old kid won’t understand, but I just don’t get this part.. and I read it many times…. help? 😀

    Comment by Yousef | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  9. Ahhh . . . very cultural.

    Do you mind if I get a little long-winded?

    A few decades ago, women had a custom of doing the wash on Monday. With washboards, or even old fashioned washing machines, it could take all day. Then they hung the clothes on clotheslines.

    So the “Monday man” would take clothes that would fit you from other people’s clotheslines. (No wonder a lot of people stayed close to home when the circus came to town!) As you continue reading, you will learn they are a group that plays by their own rules.

    The circus rules are as strict – for themselves, among themselves – as any other society. It is, as you have already learned, a closed society, not easy to enter. Once you’re in – you play by new rules – their rules.

    Jacob is very middle-class. He is horrified to learn that they steal clothes from the clotheslines. We are pretty much Jacob – we are observing a lot of things new, shocking, not-part-of-our-culture . . . even most people in the US are NOT part of this culture.

    It is a very interesting book. There are some parts I found pretty shocking, so I imagine you will, too.

    Do circuses ever come to Kuwait?

    When I lived in Florida, the Ringling Bros. circus had their own train, and would go by our house once a year. They had the animals in cages, and people from the circus would be hanging out the windows and waving.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  10. Do circuses ever come to Kuwait?

    Intlxpatr , we once had the russian circus come to kuwait ,it pitched camp in salmeyia area that was in the mid 90’s , but some crazy fanatic took an automatic rifle and shot the camp up claiming that the circus was spreading vice ???? no one got killed but innocence.

    Comment by daggero | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  11. Holy smokes! Shot it up??? Well, actually, circuses kind of do pander to vice. Like there are these shows for the family, and backstage all kinds of sleaziness going on for “private” customers . . . Guess Kuwait isn’t quite the right environment for circuses. I think circuses are having a tough time these days, everywhere.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  12. Ohh they’re stealing clothes from the clothesline! thats why Jacob was shocked and I had no idea whatsoever as to why he was shocked.. Thanks for the explanation, and the mini history lesson, intlxpatr, I enjoyed it 🙂

    Kuwait used to have good circuses back in the early 90’s and late 80’s. I remember I loved a circus called JUMBO, but they aren’t as good nowadays..

    BTW thanks for making this post months ago, I’m enjoying the book a lot 🙂

    Comment by Yousef | September 19, 2008 | Reply

  13. Yousef, you have just made my weekend. I write these book reviews, and sometimes don’t even get one comment, so just think how good I feel that you went out and bought the book. Even better, that you came back and asked a question! I feel like a million dollars, wait! wait! a million Euros!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 19, 2008 | Reply

  14. This book sucked, it was like some sort of woman’s wet dream; a bad spanish soap opera if you will.

    Comment by temp | February 26, 2009 | Reply

  15. Temp, I get the impression you haven’t even read the book, LOL, you just commented to see if you could make a wave or two. Yawn!

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 26, 2009 | Reply

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