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Water for Elephants (movie tie-in)

Water for Elephants (movie tie-in)

by Sara Gruen

Paperback(Movie Tie-in Edition)

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Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out-orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act-in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616200701
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Edition description: Movie Tie-in Edition
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Lexile: 730L (what's this?)

About the Author

Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of At the Water’s Edge,Water for Elephants, Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. Water for Elephants was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz in 2011. She lives in western North Carolina with her husband and three sons, along with their dogs, cats, horses, birds, and the world’s fussiest goat.

Read an Excerpt

Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. Grady and I sat at a battered wooden table, each facing a burger on a dented tin plate. The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula. He had turned off the fryer some time ago, but the odor of grease lingered.

The rest of the midway—so recently writhing with people—was empty but for a handful of employees and a small group of men waiting to be led to the cooch tent. They glanced nervously from side to side, with hats pulled low and hands thrust deep in their pockets. They wouldn’t be dis appointed: somewhere in the back Barbara and her ample charms awaited.

The other townsfolk—rubes, as Uncle Al called them—had already made their way through the menagerie tent and into the big top, which pulsed with frenetic music. The band was whipping through its repertoire at the usual earsplitting volume. I knew the routine by heart—at this very moment, the tail end of the Grand Spectacle was exiting and Lottie, the aerialist, was ascending her rigging in the center ring.

I stared at Grady, trying to process what he was saying. He glanced around and leaned in closer.

“Besides,” he said, locking eyes with me, “it seems to me you’ve got a lot to lose right now.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. My heart skipped a beat.

Thunderous applause exploded from the big top, and the band slid seamlessly into the Gounod waltz. I turned instinctively toward the menagerie because this was the cue for the elephant act. Marlena was either preparing to mount or was already sitting on Rosie’s head.

“I’ve got to go,” I said. “Sit,” said Grady. “Eat. If you’re thinking of clearing out, it may be a while before you see food again.”

That moment, the music screeched to a halt. There was an ungodly collision of brass, reed, and percussion—trombones and piccolos skidded into cacophony, a tuba farted, and the hollow clang of a cymbal wavered out of the big top, over our heads and into oblivion. Grady froze, crouched over his burger with his pinkies extended and lips spread wide. I looked from side to side. No one moved a muscle—all eyes were directed at the big top. A few wisps of hay swirled lazily across the hard dirt.

“What is it? What’s going on?” I said.

“Shh,” Grady hissed.

The band started up again, playing “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“Oh Christ. Oh shit!” Grady tossed his food onto the table and leapt up, knocking over the bench.

“What? What is it?” I yelled, because he was already running away from me.

“The Disaster March!” he screamed over his shoulder.

I jerked around to the fry cook, who was ripping off his apron. “What the hell’s he talking about?”

“The Disaster March,” he said, wrestling the apron over his head. “Means something’s gone bad — real bad.”

“Like what?”

“ Could be anything—fire in the big top, stampede, whatever. Aw sweet Jesus. The poor rubes probably don’t even know it yet.” He ducked under the hinged door and took off.

Chaos—candy butchers vaulting over counters, workmen staggering out from under tent flaps, roustabouts racing headlong across the lot. Anyone and everyone associated with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth barreled toward the big top.

Diamond Joe passed me at the human equivalent of a full gallop.

“ Jacob—it’s the menagerie,” he screamed. “The animals are loose. Go, go, go!”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. Marlena was in that tent. A rumble coursed through me as I approached, and it scared the hell out of me because it was on a register lower than noise. The ground was vibrating.

I staggered inside and met a wall of yak—a great expanse of curlyhaired chest and churning hooves, of flared red nostrils and spinning eyes. It galloped past so close I leapt backward on tiptoe, flush with the canvas to avoid being impaled on one of its crooked horns. A terrified hyena clung to its shoulders.

The concession stand in the center of the tent had been flattened, and in its place was a roiling mass of spots and stripes—of haunches, heels, tails, and claws, all of it roaring, screeching, bellowing, or whinnying. A polar bear towered above it all, slashing blindly with skillet-sized paws. It made contact with a llama and knocked it flat—boom. The llama hit the ground, its neck and legs splayed like the five points of a star. Chimps screamed and chattered, swinging on ropes to stay above the cats. A wild-eyed zebra zigzagged too close to a crouching lion, who swiped, missed, and darted away, his belly close to the ground.

My eyes swept the tent, desperate to find Marlena. Instead I saw a cat slide through the connection leading to the big top—it was a panther, and as its lithe black body disappeared into the canvas tunnel I braced myself. If the rubes didn’t know, they were about to find out. It took several seconds to come, but come it did—one prolonged shriek followed by another, and then another, and then the whole place exploded with the thunderous sound of bodies trying to shove past other bodies and off the stands. The band screeched to a halt for a second time, and this time stayed silent. I shut my eyes: Please God let them leave by the back end. Please God don’t let them try to come through here.

I opened my eyes again and scanned the menagerie, frantic to find her. How hard can it be to find a girl and an elephant, for Christ’s sake?

When I caught sight of her pink sequins, I nearly cried out in relief—maybe I did. I don’t remember.

She was on the opposite side, standing against the sidewall, calm as a summer day. Her sequins flashed like liquid diamonds, a shimmering beacon between the multicolored hides. She saw me, too, and held my gaze for what seemed like forever. She was cool, languid. Smiling even. I started pushing my way toward her, but something about her expression stopped me cold.

That son of a bitch was standing with his back to her, red-faced and bellowing, flapping his arms and swinging his silver-tipped cane. His high-topped silk hat lay on the straw beside him. She reached for something.

A giraffe passed between us—its long neck bobbing gracefully even in panic—and when it was gone I saw that she’d picked up an iron stake. She held it loosely, resting its end on the hard dirt. She looked at me again, bemused. Then her gaze shifted to the back of his bare head.

“Oh Jesus,” I said, suddenly understanding. I stumbled forward, screaming even though there was no hope of my voice reaching her. “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!”

She lifted the stake high in the air and brought it down, splitting his head like a watermelon. His pate opened, his eyes grew wide, and his mouth froze into an O. He fell to his knees and then toppled forward into the straw.

I was too stunned to move, even as a young orangutan flung its elastic arms around my legs.

So long ago. So long. But still it haunts me.

I don’t talk much about those days. Never did. I don’t know why—I worked on circuses for nearly seven years, and if that isn’t fodder for conversation, I don’t know what is.

Actually I do know why: I never trusted myself. I was afraid I’d let it slip. I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did — for the rest of her life, and then beyond.

In seventy years, I’ve never told a blessed soul.

What People are Saying About This

New York Times Book Review

“Gorgeous, brilliant, and superbly plotted, Water for Elephants swept me into the world of the circus during the Depression, and it did not let me go until the very end. I don’t think it has let me go, even now. Sara Gruen has a voice to rival John Irving’s, and I am hopelessly, unabashedly in love with this book. Read it.”
—Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama

“So much more than a tale about a circus, Water for Elephants is a compelling journey not only under the big top, but into the protagonist’s heart.
Sara Gruen uses her talent as a writer to bring that world alive for the reader: I could smell it, taste it, feel every word of it. This is a fiction reader’s dream come true.”

—Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo Get Lucky

“In this thrilling, romantic story set in a traveling circus in the 1930s, Sara
Gruen has a big top’s worth of vivid characters and an exhilarating narrative that kept me up all night. From the perseverance of a terrier named
Queenie to the charm of Rosie the elephant, this masterpiece of storytelling is a book about what animals can teach people about love.”

—Susan Cheever, author of My Name Is Bill
"Water for Elephants resembles stealth hits like The Giant's House, by Elizabeth McCracken, or The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. . . . With a showman's expert timing, [Gruen] saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale."—The New York Times Book Review

From the Publisher

“Gorgeous, brilliant, and superbly plotted, Water for Elephants swept me into the world of the circus during the Depression, and it did not let me go until the very end. I don’t think it has let me go, even now. Sara Gruen has a voice to rival John Irving’s, and I am hopelessly, unabashedly in love with this book. Read it.”
—Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama

“So much more than a tale about a circus, Water for Elephants is a compelling journey not only under the big top, but into the protagonist’s heart.
Sara Gruen uses her talent as a writer to bring that world alive for the reader: I could smell it, taste it, feel every word of it. This is a fiction reader’s dream come true.”

—Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo Get Lucky

“In this thrilling, romantic story set in a traveling circus in the 1930s, Sara
Gruen has a big top’s worth of vivid characters and an exhilarating narrative that kept me up all night. From the perseverance of a terrier named
Queenie to the charm of Rosie the elephant, this masterpiece of storytelling is a book about what animals can teach people about love.”

—Susan Cheever, author of My Name Is Bill


"Inside Circus World" by Sara Gruen

The idea for Water for Elephants 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 and 1930s.

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 my 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 unlit corners.

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 my notebook. 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 language, 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 elephant handler.

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 both of them 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, "So I was talking with a retired clown today…"?

I went through a period of mourning when the book was finished, and it took me a while to figure out why.

Eventually I realized it was because I no longer had an elephant in my life.

I miss her.


Wine and Recipe Pairings

In Water for Elephants, Jacob Jankowski is invited to join Marlena and August for dinner in their railway car. We thought you might enjoy cooking a variation on this meal and possibly serving it to your book club sometime, so we have come up with a menu that is slightly less elaborate, and perhaps less filling than the one described in the novel (page 93), but hopefully one that you'll find faithful to the spirit of the evening in which Jacob truly fell in love with Marlena.

As Jacob remembers the meal, it began with oyster bisque, followed by prime rib, boiled potatoes, and asparagus in cream. Then came lobster salad. For dessert, there was English plum pudding with brandy sauce. The entire meal was washed down by champagne, purchased in Canada—remember, this was during Prohibition—and smuggled into the country hidden in the camel stalls.

We'd recommend the Oyster Bisque (see recipe c/o Sara Gruen below), but would suggest substituting London Broil. And for the side dishes, parsleyed boiled potatoes seem like a good idea if you want a starch, and we'd definitely suggest the fresh asparagus, although perhaps served with lemon and olive oil rather than cream. And while lobster salad sounds excellent, it also sounds like maybe too much trouble (and too expensive these days), so we'd suggest instead just going straight to something sweet. For dessert, we'd have you substitute an authentic Depression version of Applesauce Cake that we think you'll find delicious (although if you want to attempt the plum pudding, then go for it).

Finally, we'd suggest sticking with "champagne," although the two varieties we are recommending—both excellent and very affordable—are, strictly speaking, sparkling wines. They are Gruet Sparkling Wine Brut, from the Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, NM, believe it or not, and Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut, a product of the Catalonia region of Spain.

Grilled Marinated London Broil
1930s Apple Sauce Cake
Oyster Brie Soup (The Grove Park Inn's recipe)

Sara Gruen shared this recipe for Oyster Brie Soup and her thoughts on the role of food in Water for Elephants. The below is from the fabulous anthology Table of Contents, a unique cookbook featuring recipes drawn from the works of today's bestselling authors. We heartily encourage you to pick up a copy–it's chock-full of amazing recipes.

Food plays an important role in Water for Elephants because much of the story is set during the Depression, a time when many Americans did not have enough to eat. Uncle Al, the owner of the Benzini Bros. Most Spectacular Show on Earth, may have mistreated his workers—and more often than not didn't pay them—but he never skimped on food, and that was enough to keep them loyal.

Although the food served to the working men was hearty and plentiful, the train had professional chefs on board to cater to the needs of the stars and bosses. The first night Jacob had dinner in August and Marlena's stateroom, the four course meal they enjoyed was nothing short of decadent: the first course was oyster bisque, followed by prime rib with boiled potatoes, and asparagus in cream. Then came lobster salad, and to finish off, English plum pudding with brandy sauce.

The following is for the oyster bisque that used to be served at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. Whenever I find myself there, I still ask for it, hoping they've put it back on the menu. Perhaps some day they will, but in the meantime, I talked them into giving me the recipe. It is unbelievably good.

For the soup:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound Brie cheese, cut into small wedges, no skin
6 cups cold water
2 cups heavy cream
36 shucked small oysters, with liquor, plus additional oysters for garnish (optional)
1/2 cup champagne
1/4 cup dry sherry
For the oyster garnish (optional)
Oil for deep frying
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup bread crumbs

1. To make the soup: In a large soup pot, melt one stick of butter. Add the celery, onions, and white and cayenne peppers. Stir and cook over low heat until vegetables begin to soften.
2. In a small saucepan, melt the second stick of butter. Make a roux as a base for thickening the soup by combining the melted butter and the flour. Cook at least 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the roux and the cheese to the soup pot. Add the water, cream, oysters and their liquor. Simmer the soup until the oysters begin to curl. Add the champagne and sherry and heat through.
3. To be extra fancy, garnish each bowl with a single deep-fried breaded oyster. To make the deep-fried oysters: Place 2-3 inches of oil in a deep fryer or large pot and heat to 375°F. Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge oysters in flour mixture, dip in egg and roll in bread crumbs.
4. Place oysters gently into hot oil. Cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes (if less oil, turn until golden brown on one side with tongs and fry until both sides are golden brown). Drain briefly on paper towels before garnishing soup.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

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