I read this wonder of a book when it first came out and recommended it to everyone – but I only remembered the elephant who understood a foreign language and the ending – one to aspire to. Since then, I’ve read Sara Gruen’s latest book, Ape House, and have been recommending that one too.
The movie brought it all back, with Hal Holbrook playing the old vet who tells his story. The flashback takes up most of the movie, as it did in the book, with grand circus scenes, smoldering love connections, and terrifyingly brutal cruelty. After his parents die in a car crash, Jacob Jankowski forgoes finishing his veterinary degree and joins the circus. His skills with animals become apparent, and he becomes the unofficial vet to the circus menagerie.
Set during the Depression, the circus is struggling and buys Rosie, the elephant, who cannot seem to follow the simplest directions. Once the language barrier has been crossed, Jacob teaches the elephant so well that she takes center ring and saves the circus. The menagerie director (the circus owner in the movie) abuses the elephant as well as his wife, eventually losing both to the handsome vet.
The elephant is the star of the movie, but, it’s the ending – the same in both the book and the movie – when the story returns to the old man – that will always be my favorite part. Who wouldn’t want to join the circus?
Read a review of another Sara Gruen book: Ape House