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Book Club Thu Jul 12 2007

August 2007 Selection: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006)

Our August book is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a novel about life in a Depression-era circus.

The story is told from the point-of-view of the 90-something-year-old Jacob Jankowski, who is living in a nursing home in the present day, and remembering the time he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth in 1931. Jacob joins the circus almost accidentally when he drops out of veterinary school at Cornell and hops on a train, which happens to be a circus train. When the circus' owner, "Uncle Al" Bunkel, finds out about his veterinary training, Jacob is put to work caring for the troupe's substantial menagerie. The collection of animals notably includes an elephant named Rosie who only responds to commands in Polish. While working for Benzini Brothers, he falls in love Marlena, one of the circus' star performers, but she is married to August, the abusive head animal trainer. The ensuing love triangle forms the heart of the novel. But this old-fashioned romance is also an engrossing, fast-paced page-turner.

Author Sara Gruen grew up in Canada, but has lived in north suburban Grayslake since 1999. She spent months researching Water for Elephants, visiting circus museums, hunting down rare books and talking to circus historians and former performers. As a result, the novel is a seamless blend of fact and fiction that vividly brings to life the world of the circus and Depression-era America. The book is even illustrated with historical circus photos.

Water for Elephants became a surprise bestseller for indie publisher Algonquin Books when it was published last year. It was chosen by Book Sense as the top pick for June 2006, and was later named the 2007 Book Sense Book of the Year.

So read Water for Elephants and join us to talk about the book on Monday, August 13, at 7:30pm at The Book Cellar in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood. New members are always welcome! Hope to see you there.

Additional Resources

Visit the official website for Sara Gruen at

Read an excerpt from the book at Book Browse.

Find sample discussion questions at (Warning: Questions may include plot spoilers.)

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