Review by Shelfarian Ma Titwonky.
When this book was published, I avoided it because I didn't think I'd be interested in reading a story about a circus. I'd been to the circus as a child, and I hated it. But when Good Reads, a Shelfari group I belong to, chose this book as their monthly selection, I broke down and bought it. I'm very glad I did.
The story concerns that of a young man in college about to take his test to graduate as a veterinarian when everything in his life is turned upside down. All of sudden his future is very insecure, and by a stroke of happenstance he ends up with a circus acting as their vet. The story is told in retrospect when the man is either 91 or 93 years old and living in a nursing home. His mind is sharp; his body is frail. He has kept a secret about his time in the circus, and now the memory of the events that sparked this secret are weighing on his mind. The book switches from the present to the past. I enjoyed reading the story from whichever time period the author chose to tell it.
I was particularly impressed by Sara Gruen's understanding of and ability to write clearly about how it feels to become aged. I have not read any novel before Water For Elephants that expressed nearly as well what it is like to no longer have control of the body but have the mind remain almost as sharp as it was in a person's youth.
I also have to add that once I began reading Water For Elephants, and I do mean from the very first page, I realized it was not merely a story about a circus. It was about love and loyalty; treachery and heartache, and about the decisions we have to make and how we live with them. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story well told. I still wouldn't go to see another circus, but I definitely learned something and enjoyed reading about Sara Gruen's "Big Top".