Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen, Algonquin Books, 2007
Reviewed by Richard McGowan
If you ever entertained ideas of what it's
like to work for and travel with a circus, consider reading Sara
Gruen's eminently enjoyable Water for Elephants first. You might
reconsider unless circus life has changed significantly from the
depression-era circus depicted in this book.
Life in that circus was, in a word, harsh. And yet, the main
character, Jacob Jankowski, looks wistfully upon his experience
with the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth. I
suppose that is only natural for a 93 year-old as he looks from his
nursing home at the circus being set up in town. He remembers his
days on 'the Spec'-the performers and roustabouts; the animals,
especially the elephant, Rosie; and the 'rubes.' He remembers the
demands made on his young body and compares that life to the face
he now sees in the mirror.
The book, therefore, is not just a story about the greatest show
on earth but also about being young and growing old, about falling
in love and the presence of memory.
Gruen wove several stories about life in the Big Top so Water
for Elephants was properly researched. In fact, when my friend
recommended the book to me, my friend said, "My uncle left home to
join the circus. He said it was the closest account of circus life
that he has read."
Ms. Gruen brought the greatest show on earth to her readers. In
her hands, that show is life and its fullness.
- Richard McGowan is Instructor of Business Ethics at Butler