Thursday, December 13, 2007

Water for Elephants *updated*

The college dean walks into a class at Cornell University and briefly interrupts a professor to call a student out. Jacob Jankowski. The surprised and scared Jacob exits the class to be told by the dean that his parents have just been killed in a car accident. He is to go home immediately.

During his time at home, the traumatized young man is confronted with financial realities that he had been allowed to be naive about before. His veternarian father had been accepting payments in kind--specifically, eggs, rice, and beans. The Jankowski's lawyer explained that these were hard times, and his parents couldn't watch animal suffering. And there was a mortgage. Jacob hadn't known that, but it was obvious to him that the only reason his parents would need to mortgage their home was to finance his ivy league education.

This is the touching and succinct way author Sara Gruen conveys to us the kind of parents Jacob has so suddenly lost. Feeling alone and helpless, Jacob tries to get through final exams, tries to finish what his parents have paid for, but he just can't do it. After sitting in an exam hall for about two hours, unable to focus on reading the questions, he walks out.

Jacob walks until it is dark, and eventually jumps a train. He doesn't know what he will do or where he is going, but he wants to be away. In the dark, however, Jacob doesn't realize that he hasn't jumped just any train. Oh, no. This one is bright red and embossed with gold letters. Jacob has just, accidentally, run off with the circus.

This story is told in flashback, in the memory of the ninety-something year old Jacob Jankowski, now a resident in an old folks' home, where he is still the smartest guy in the room. He remembers his attempt to help the poor circus animals, as well as the people who were victims of the depression and the circus machine.

I haven't quite finished this book yet, but will before I take off. It's been a fast read, and if I weren't so busy packing for vacation, I'd have it finished--it's quite a captivating read.


The preface is clever! And Sara Gruen has done her homework in regard to train circuses--the stories and anecdotes in this novel are similar to events that did take place, and some of them are quite shocking. It's a great read!


Doug said...

Sounds brilliant and very readable on the boat if you didn't finish in time.

TLP said...

Well bring it over. I have to read it of course.