Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A Short Review

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen: A Short Review by Rickey Pittman

When my friend FB friend Dena, who works for Books-A-Million in Sherman, Texas, recommended this novel, I decided I would give it a read. I knew that Water for Elephants (Algonquin Pub.) was a bestseller, that it had acquired many good reviews, but because it dealt with the circus, I was hesitant. After having read it, I must say that it is one of the best books I’ve read this year.  The beautiful author’s site is here, http://www.saragruen.com/home.html and I hope you will visit it to learn more about her and her other books.

Here is a brief summary of the novel which I lifted from her website:

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie.
It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Here are my own personal observations:  I learned much more about the “circus” than I expected. Gruen’s extensive research into the circus and Depression-era America was obvious, as was her ability to describe the human condition–in the words of one reviewer–in the “pathetic grandeur of the Depression-era circus.”
Told from the flashbacks and viewpoint of an old Jacob, the novel reveals the author’s understanding of what it means to be old and a resident of “assisted living” and this, because of dealing with my own father recently, endeared me to the storyline.  One could construct a circus glossary from the terms the author weaves into her story.

This was the last book I will read in 2009, and I think it was a proper and inspiring choice. I’ve only been to one circus–Ringling Brothers in Dallas, long, long ago, but I feel I understand those who work the circus much better. There is an interview with the author included as well as study questions should you read this with a group. There are photographs related to the circus scattered throughout, and so many good lines in her prose that I’m hesitant to try to list them all. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Jacob says he is “observing as the ghosts of my past rattle around my vacuous present” ( 13).

After he first makes love to Marlena, he says, “I am afraid to breathe in case I break the spell” (273).

In short, I found this novel to be exceptional.

Georgia Political News: Ray McBerry

Candidate Rising Like a Meteor in the Governor’s Race

(ATLANTA, December 22, 2009) — Having won several polls in the Governor’s race across the state in the past month, Ray McBerry’s campaign continues to pick up steam across the state.

In the past month, McBerry won first place in the governor’s race straw poll conducted in Tifton the week following two candidate forums in south Georgia, one in Tifton and another in Valdosta. Even Austin Scott, a native of Tifton, came in second to McBerry among the seven Republicans.

Meanwhile, Ray McBerry scored overwhelming victories in the online polls for the Governor’s race that were conducted by both the Augusta area Young Republicans in east Georgia and the Paulding County GOP in west Georgia.

In north Georgia’s Walker County, the McBerry Campaign came in second place in the Republican party’s straw poll, being bested only by Nathan Deal, in whose “back yard” the straw poll was conducted.

For several months now, there have been record turnouts each time that Ray McBerry has spoken at different county GOP meetings across the state, leading to an increase in the number of speaking invitations from other county chairmen.

Additionally, Ray has been invited to be the “kickoff” speaker for nearly a dozen ” tea party patriot” groups springing up around the state — groups who are looking for candidates who are not part of the current Democrat and Republican establishment. The most recent of thes e events was this past Thursday evening in Dalton in which approximately 200 people turned out to hear Ray speak on the subject of “States’ Rights.”

The record turnout at both Republican-sponsored events and these “town hall” type meetings every time that Ray McBerry is invited to speak have certainly gotten the attention of many within the Republican Party. Being called “the best public speaker in Georgia today” by a number of statewide candidates, Ray’s message of “States’ Rights” is resounding incredibly well in all areas of the state and among all groups, including “blue dog” Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents, as well as traditional conservative Republicans.

The McBerry Campaign team continues to grow with each new week and is the largest volunteer organization in the governor’s race among both Republican and Democrat contenders. With the rapid growth of the campaign, the success in numerous recent polls, and the increasing demand for his speaking across the state, Ray McBerry appears to be rising like a meteor in the Republican race for Governor.

For more information or to contact Ray McBerry’s campaign about interviews and speaking engagements, please visit the campaign website at http://www.GeorgiaFirst.org

A Soldier’s Christmas by Jeff Talmadge: Chords and Lyrics

With Christmas coming on, I wanted to share the lyrics of this Jeff Talmadge song that I learned from his Blissville CD. I plan on playing it for the Scottish Society in Shreveport this Saturday. During the holidays, please remember our soldiers . . .

A Soldier’s Christmas by Jeff Talmadge: Chords and Lyrics

Verse 1:

The guns were silent and the night was still *C G

And we’d just come in from patrol C G

We never thought that we’d spend Christmas here Bm C

We thought that we’d be going home  C D (There is a walk down here)

Verse 2

We sang Christmas songs that we all knew C G

And we ate turkey from a tray C G

We never talk about not coming back Bm C

It’s best to treat it like any other day. C D


And in between the clouds of smoke G C D G

There’s Christmas in the air G C D

It’s Christmas in this tent tonight G C D G

It’s Christmas everywhere.  C D G

(Final verse add)

Em C D G

Verse 3:

We took Basra just by driving through

And we took Baghdad in a day

The day the war was over was the day our war began

And they can’t tell us how long we will stay

Verse 4:

And there’s an empty bunk right next to mine

It’s where my buddy used to sleep

They’ll be sending somebody to take his place

They say he’ll be here sometime late next week


Verse 5:

So we strung some lights from pole to pole

With ornaments of cartridges and shells

We clean our guns so when the morning comes

We’re not afraid to walk through hell


*Note: Jeff finger picks it and as he often uses a D tuning, it may not be a true “C” chord, but an adaptation. If you hear the song and finger pick, you’ll know what I mean.