Author’s Corner: NY Times Bestselling Author Sara Gruen on ‘Water for Elephants’

Water for ElephantsAbout Water for Elephants

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 the circus world 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 ultimately their only hope for survival.

About Sara Gruen

SARA GRUEN is the best selling author of Riding Lessons and Water for Elephants. She is an animal lover who lives with her husband, three children, five cats, two goats, a dog, and a horse in an environmentalist community north of Chicago.

Kmart Books Exclusive: Please enjoy the post below Sara Gruen wrote describing the first time she met the elephant on the movie set of Water for Elephants.

The moment it first felt real to me was when my agent, Emma, and I hopped in the back of a van and drove out into the desert, past fields and fields of turnips and what turned out to be hot peppers. We seemed to be headed out into the middle of nowhere, but suddenly people began to appear at the side of the road. A few here and a few there turned into a gaggle, and by the time we turned into a makeshift parking lot there was a veritable crowd. Our driver flashed his security pass, and shortly thereafter Emma and I climbed out and found ourselves surrounded by high-end trailers, buzzing with the effort to produce air conditioning. We were met by Andrew Tennenbaum, one of the producers, and he told us that these were the actors’ trailers – this one Robert’s, this one Christoph’s, that one over there, Reese’s. While I was taking this all in, he guided us to a golf cart and drove over a berm.

I don’t know what he was saying when we went over the top of that berm, because what I saw literally took my breath away. There, in all its splendor, was the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth – its midway, its animal tents, the menagerie, the big top, its clowns and roustabouts and working men.  Only a few years before this had all been in my head, and here it was. Real. Well, Hollywood real, but they had done such a good job of it that every single object was authentic. Walking on the midway, I was looking for a trash can so I could throw out a candy wrapper. Just as I was about to drop it in, I realized that all the trash was from the 1930s.

After my initial wordlessness, Andrew asked if I wanted to meet Frances, the director. I blurted out, “No! I want to meet Tai!” Later on I realized that probably sounded rude, because of course I wanted to meet Frances, but I was so excited at the idea of meeting the actress who was playing Rosie that it just came out of my mouth. Andrew laughed and led us around the back of a tent to another even more enormous air-conditioned trailer, and minutes later, Tai, all 8800 glorious pounds of her, was standing in front of us. I always carry mints for my horses and she could smell them, so before long I was slipping her mints and she was holding her trunk up over my nose and mouth, I suppose to smell my breath and decide if she liked me. Her trainer then asked me to hug her trunk. I did, and he said, “No, not like that, like this,” and I thought I’d done something terrible in elephant etiquette, but seconds later she swung me seven feet into the air. Fortunately, someone was around to capture the moment on camera!

I am so grateful to have been allowed to see the realization of my story – of what is now also rightfully Fox2000’s story – and even to have a small role. Look for a woman in a white dress with red polka dots and a cloche hat during the street parade!

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  1. I just got this book for my girlfriend's birthday. She's looking forward to reading it before we check out the movie.

  2. This book was awesome! I think I’m going to re-read it before I go see the movie!

  3. I loved this book, and can't wait for the movie! And thank you, too, for posting such a fun essay on the website -- I'll definitely look for the author in the street parade scene!

  4. I absolutely loved this book. I got so wrapped up in the story that I just couldn't put it down! I am really looking forward to seeing the movie.