Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Read For Your Health - How About A Great Novel?

I have been reading quite a few novels lately.  Normally I tend toward biographies and histories, or maybe a historical novel once in a while, but I've been hooked on reading novels now for about six months, and within the next week or so I am about to embark upon a project involving quite a few novels.

Anyway, a friend of mine (thanks, Linda!) turned me on to a terrific historical novel, which I will pass on to you. 

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006) is told in retrospect by the narrator, Jacob Jankowski, who is 90 or 93 years old - he isn't sure.  Living in a nursing home, Jacob reflects on his life with the circus in the middle of the Great Depression.  The Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show On Earth is anything but spectacular - it is a second or third rate little circus that travels town to town by rail. 

23-year-old Jacob jumps a train one night after suffering a breakdown following the death of his parents in an accident. He has dropped out of Cornell just before taking his final exams to become a veterinarian, and is surprised to find that the train he jumped was a circus train.  He becomes the animal doctor and lives a circus life. 

Gruen pulls no punches in describing the horrendous conditions of the Depression and the squalid life that a second-rate circus provided.  Animal and human cruelty abounded, and survival instincts kicked in as Jacob struggled to make a life out of what confronted him daily.

"Freaks", "midgets", "rubes", "drunks", the "magic of the big top" - they all come alive in Water For Elephants.  Don't be fooled, this is not a happy, uplifting book or a "chick-flick" book, but it is a great page-turner and will hold your interest all the way through its 335 pages.

If you're short on time, try the audio-book.  I downloaded it from the library to my I-Pod and listened to it on my daily commute.  For free.

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