'I loved Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Great story, loads of fun; hard to put down. So what if the heroine weighs 2500 pounds?'
(Stephen King )
'Rich and outlandish... you are so immersed in circus life that you are blinded by the thrilling, fatal dazzle of sequins and sawdust.'
'An imaginative modern fairy story, teeming with eccentric characters'
'Gorgeous, brilliant and superbly plotted, I am unabashedly in love with this book'
(Joshilyn Jackson, author of GODS IN ALABAMA )
'Water for Elephants is fun, sweet and thrilling and will pull you into the mysterious life of the circus so far that you won't want to leave.'
'This masterpiece of storytelling is a book about what animals can teach people about love.'
(Susan Cheever )
'Lovely and mesmerising.' (Kirkus
'A tender story of first love, of murder, mayhem and animal and human brutality, of hucksters, whores and the general hoopla created when the circus rolls into town... This book is every bit the fabulous escapist entertainment that the big top once was.'
(Giffords Circus )
'Allow yourself to be carried away by this vibrant and superbly written book.'
'Gruen brilliantly conjures up the whole brouhaha of herding punters into the temporary magic of the big top, and the harsh economin reality of sustaining the show. Both exotic and erotic, Water for Elephants is filled with colour and passion but is also charged with an elegiac sense of loss for an entire way of life.'
'It's a romantic story that's set in an evocatively rendered era.'
From the Author
The idea for this book came unexpectedly. I was a day away
from starting a different novel when the Chicago Tribune ran an article on
a photographer who followed and documented train circuses during the 1920s
The photograph that accompanied the article was stunning - a detailed
panoramic that so fascinated me I immediately bought two books of old-time
circus photographs. By the time I thumbed through them, I was hooked. I
abandoned the other novel and dove into the world of the train circus.
I began by getting a bibliography from the archivist at Circus World in
Baraboo, Wisconsin. Most of the books were out of print, but I managed to
track them down online and through rare-book sellers. Within weeks I was
off to Sarasota, Florida, to visit the Ringling Circus Museum. I spent
three days crawling under circus wagons, peering inside the trunks stored
beneath them, and taking flash pictures to reveal the mysteries stashed in
By the end of the first day, I was being shadowed. By the end of the third,
an employee approached me and asked what on earth I thought I was doing.
When I told her of my desire to write a novel set on a circus train, her
eyes lit up and she walked me through the entire museum, regaling me with a
rich oral history that was far more vivid than the information on the
posted placards, and that answered many of the questions I had scribbled in
The museum was selling duplicates of books in its collection, so I came
home poorer by several hundred dollars. Yet the more I read, the more aware
I became of just how much I still had to learn. Train circuses operated in
a distinct culture that had its own languages, its own traditions, and its
own laws. I also realized that there is a huge subculture of circus fans
who would know if I got something wrong.
I spent almost a year doing research, including hauling my family to every
circus within driving distance. I returned to Sarasota and brought home
more books. I went to Circus World, where I was taken into the elephant
enclosure and introduced to a beautiful fifty-three-year-old Asian elephant
named Barbara. I stood by her ten-foot-high shoulder, literally trembling
as I reached out to touch her. And finally, because I wanted to learn about
elephant body language, I went to the Kansas City Zoo with a former
When it was time to start writing, my head was so full of details I
couldn't stand external stimulus. I asked my husband to move my desk into
our walk-in closet, covered the window, and wore noise-reduction
headphones. I spent much of the winter in that closet, weaving together the
things I had learned.
The history of the American circus is so rich that I plucked many of the
novel's most outrageous details from fact or anecdote (in circus history,
the line between the two is famously blurred). Among them are stories about
a hippo pickled in formaldehyde, a deceased four-hundred-pound "strong
lady" who was paraded around town in an elephant cage, an elephant who
repeatedly pulled up her stake and drank the lemonade intended for sale on
the midway, another elephant who ran off and was retrieved from a backyard
vegetable patch, and an ancient lion who got wedged beneath a sink along
with a restaurant employee, rendering them both too terrified to move. I
also incorporated the horrific and very real tragedy of Jamaica ginger
paralysis, a neurological disease caused by the consumption of adulterated
ginger extract that devastated the lives of approximately 100,000 Americans
between 1930 and 1931 and which is virtually forgotten today because most
of its victims lived on the fringes of society.
None of the characters in the novel is based on any one real person;
rather, they are a distillation of the many memorable performers and circus
workers I encountered during the course of my research. And then there is
Rosie, the elephant at the center of the novel; she became as real to me as
any living pachyderm could ever be.
I knew from the beginning that I had embarked on an adventure with this
book, but I didn't know the extent until the day I found myself
cold-calling a man who owns a sideshow and keeps human heads in his house.
And really, how often can you greet your spouse with the words,
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.