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Book Club: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

By Margaret Manning April 18, 2014 Mindset

Water for Elephants” is a book about memories, aging, and nostalgia. It is also a story of loyalty and love. Jacob Jankowski is in his 90’s and the movie starts with him looking back on his days with the circus. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth was his life.

His story spans a lifetime. He starts with memories of losing his parents the Depression and learning how to survive on his own. He has to give up his studies as a veterinarian and hope to find an opportunity that will keep him sane and safe. By chance he finds himself drawn into the world of the circus.

The seductive characters he befriends all have their unique and endearing personality traits. He gets close to the clowns, freaks, and social misfits that populate this world and some of the evil people who take advantage of them. He talks with love about Marlena, the beautiful and hypnotic star of the act with horses.

Her husband August is one of the dark characters in the book. He is a manipulative, twisted man and a cruel animal trainer. Even the animals have their own wonderful personalities. He particularly connects to the elephant Rosie, who becomes his friend for life.

The Sixty and Me community voted it as one of their favourite books. There is something in the novel for everyone. It is an adventure, mystery, memoir, love story, and historical account of the Depression.

The key point that I think will resonate with women in the community is that tough times create unique survival strengths. Jacob’s struggles shaped him and his goodness did not always mean that good things happened to him. The bond that Jacob shapes with Rosie is for me symbolic of a deep and trusting love that he could not enjoy with the one women he loved.

There any many theories about the author’s intentions and messages in the book. It ends with a twist that is best experienced and examined by each individual. The way he remembers his life may not be what happened and then again it might. His last comments reinforce the strength of his memories and highlight the feelings of weakness and helplessness that are taking over his aging body. With poignant sadness he says, “Age is a terrible thief.

Just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, it knocks your legs out from under you and stoops your back.” His memories of his life are what give his life meaning. The nostalgia for the richness of his life makes it all worthwhile.

If you don’t already have a copy of “Water for Elephants,” you can get it on Amazon, or free with a free 30-day trial on

To kick things off, here are a few questions. Please add your thoughts in the comments:

To what extent do chapters concerning the older Jacob explain the chapters about his younger days?

What is the importance of faithfulness and loyalty in the book?

How would you describe August? Which situations in the novel reveal his true character?

Marlena has a “sixth sense,” in working with horses. Do you have a sixth sense about anything?

How does the author contrast the worlds of reality and illusion in the novel?

Why do we crave the illusions that the circus represents?

What does the book teach us about learning from the lessons of older people?

Looking in the mirror as an old man, Jacob asks “What happened to me?” Have you felt this way?

I hope that you enjoy this book! Please share your thoughts below.

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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