About the Book

Book Protagonist: Jacob Jankowski
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance


Water for Elephants

By Sara Gruen

'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen brings the circus world of a past era to life. The brilliant plot of the novel is one in a host of pros and cons for readers

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a delightful read. The portrayals are vivid, and the story is very educative about the internal operations of circuses in the 1930s. On the flip side, some of the characters were not well developed, there were some illogical loopholes in the plot, and sensitive readers should beware of graphic scenes of animal abuse in the story.

Skillful Storytelling

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is a rich, well-told story. Although a story about the circus, it depicts serious issues of life like grief, aging, poverty, mental illness, abuse, business malpractices, etc without seeming to try too hard.

However, the magnificence of the story is not palpable from the first page, I found myself struggling to read through the prologue and the first chapter but by the seventh chapter, I could not stop flipping the pages. And by the time I finished the story, I found a heightened respect for the author because of the way she succeeded in making readers mistake some details until the last few pages.

The technicalities of alternating between two eras in the novel deserve commendation and is a credit to the writer.

Endearing Animals

I think the animal characters are the best feature of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The animals in the novel although silent, speak volumes in the way they show emotions of gratitude, mirth, grief, mischief, and vengeance.

Sara Gruen’s depiction makes the animals very similar to humans. Especially the character Rosie the elephant. The mischievous Rosie will make readers cry, laugh, smile, and yearn for a hug. Then we have Queenie the loyal dog, Bobo the clingy orangutan, and many impressive horses.


The human characters in the novel leave mixed feelings in a reader. The villains in the novel are ruthless and selfish, which is understandable because they are the villains. But the selfishness from the supposedly good character Jacob grates on one’s nerve. Jacob in his selfish desire to eliminate his own enemies takes away a weapon of defense from his friend Walter, whose association with Jacob brings nothing but danger and inconvenience.

Also, some of the female characters are quite dull, with nothing much to recommend them besides physical appearance. For instance, Marlena in the novel leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to depth and development. Although she knows that Uncle Al has a soft spot for her, she never uses it to her advantage to challenge the unethical practices in the Benzini Brothers circus.

Loopholes and Inaccuracies

Several loopholes reduce the realistic quality of the plot. For instance, how likely is it that a twenty-first century nursing home reports to the police that one of their housemates is missing without giving the police a photograph for identification?

Also, the behavior of the character August is not consistent with the symptoms of the mental illness he is said to have in the novel. He is said to have paranoid schizophrenia but acts more like one with a narcissistic disorder than one suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Also, schizophrenia was a relatively recent term in the 1930s setting where it is mentioned, and the term paranoid schizophrenia was not yet in use when it was mentioned in the novel, which makes that detail inaccurate.

Great Themes

Love is a theme we find in many novels, but Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen explored the theme of love from both the typical romantic love and from the unusual dimension of love between humans and animals. It also explores themes like aging and shows us how the pursuit of happiness has no age limit.

Water for Elephants Review
  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Lasting Effect on a Reader

Water for Elephants Review: A Refreshing Circus of Animals and Humans

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen will make you hop on a train and travel through the tracks of the 1930s circus world. It showcases vivid pictures of the backstage happenings in a world of staged performances and illusions. The novel is well-detailed and educative and is bound to leave an impression on its reader long after closing the last page. The animal characters in the novel are impressive but many of the human characters, unfortunately, lack depth. However, it is still a novel I would recommend to a reader with only a warning about graphic details of the abuse of women and animals. Overall, Sara Gruen showed genius in the use of suspense, plot twists, and layering in the story.


  • Educative Details
  • Great Setting
  • Interesting Plot
  • Endearing Animals


  • Some Characters Lack Depth
  • Graphic Scenes of Animal Abuse
Onyekachi Osuji
About Onyekachi Osuji
Onyekachi is a lecturer of Public Administration and a Literature enthusiast. After gaining accreditation in English Literature, Onyeka analyzes novels on Book Analysis, whilst working as an academic and writing short stories.
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