July 15, 2007

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

Life sent me this book a few weeks back - a yoga instructor was talking about reding it, and the same day, I heard an interview with the author.

Just finished the book. Quite lovely really, sort of like John Irving-lite - similarly colorful characters and outlandish circumstances and plot, but many fewer pages, a bit less sex, and no trannies. It sort of fits in, jigsaw-puzzle like, with other pieces of my unconscious - there are elephants (seem to be a recurring theme for me of late) and vets (we've been watching All Creatures Great and Small on PBS). In some ways the book is sort of like a Tracy Kidder book; there is a lot of information packed in there - you learn a lot about the circus train even as you enjoy the read.

I am struck by the recent trend towards posting English Lit-like questions at the back of the book. I read the book. Liked it. Then I get to the questions at the back and find that the backbone of the book is based on the bibical story of Jacob (never would have crossed my mind, even though the protaganists name is Jacob) so now I am going back to the bible and reading the Jacob story and comparing notes. I feel like I might want to sit down and actually write small essays in response to the questions to get the full nourishment out of the book!

I always (on some level) assumed that when english teachers came up with these sorts of parallels and symbolism that they were blowing smoke and the writer was just writing a good book; the parallels and symbolism sprang from the collective unconscious or something. But no, the author herself comments on the biblical Jacob parallel.

Harrumph. Damn writers. Always one step ahead.....


sandyshoes said...

Someone in our reading group went to her Bible to check out the Jacob story after reading the back-of-the-book questions, and still didn't see the parallel. I don't get it either, though I'm not super familiar with Biblical Jacob.

"John Irving lite" really hits it!

Jude said...

I found this on amazon, purportedly a comment by Ms. Gruen:

There are anagrams, both exact and phonetic: Catherine Hale=Leah, Marlena L'Arche=Rachel, Alan Bunkel (Uncle Al)=Uncle Laban

There is the flat rock, the dream, the animal husbandry for Uncle Laban, Jacob and Rachel (Marlena) leave with Uncle Al's (Uncle Laban's) best livestock, Jacob must do an additional seven years of animal husbandry in order to be with Marlena, he breaks his hip, etc. Some of his children's names are the same as well.