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Circuses celebrate human beings at their most puerile and most daring, drawing audiences in with extravagant pomp and elevated affectation.

So much more than a tale about a circus, “Water for Elephants” is a compelling journey that offers the reader a view of not only what lies under the circus tent, but also a way into the central character’s heart.

While hype spreads for the April 22 release of the film adaptation, interest has resurged in the 2007 book, currently No. 7 on the Amazon bestselling fiction list.

Throughout the book, the weaving and winding of memory and love are expressed in the disarming storytelling of a very old man. Author Sara Gruen has written a terrifically moving novel that entwines fear, sadness and joy into a memorable reading experience.

This distinctively compelling novel brings to life the era of the traveling circus and small town America during the Depression. When Jacob Jankowski, suddenly orphaned and aimless, hops onto a passing train, he enters a world of vagabonds, tramps and oddball characters that are desperately trying to survive the hardships of economic despair.

Because of his prior experience as a veterinary student at Cornell University, Jacob is assigned the charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It’s in this zoo (of people and animals alike) that he meets Marlena, the striking young star of the equestrian act, and her husband, August, the alluring but cruel animal trainer.

Jacob also meets Rosie, an elephant that the entire crew has given up on. Though she seems untrainable, Jacob takes upon the challenge of discovering a way to reach her. His encounters with Rosie reveal the warped bitterness of August, and also Jacob’s overcoming triumph.

Though the unhurried leisure of the circus’s daily routine is charming and captivating, Gruen also calls to attention the dismal splendor of the Depression-era circus.

While families are starving to death on street corners, the circus crew is more avidly concerned about the shine of their sequins and the grandiose fluff of their costumes.

Beautifully written, Gruen infuses this bold piece with an unexpected poignancy and sentimentality and captures an enchanting feeling and idea of time and place.

The author successfully entwines historic details with an enthralling fictional quality, telling the story of a romance that rises above astonishing odds in a setting where love is an indulgence that few can attain.

This exceedingly agreeable, thoroughly researched and sweetly engaging read will endear any reader.

Sara Gruen is also the author of “Ape House” and “Riding Lessons.” The film version of “Water for Elephants,” directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, will be in theaters April 22.

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