Water for Elephants


Water for Elephants Book Cover

Author: Gruen, Sara

Title: Water for Elephants

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2006

Geographical Setting: Small towns across the United States

Time Period: Alternates between the Depression and Present Day

Series: No

Plot Summary: Water for Elephants is the colorful and historically accurate story of life on the road for a community of circus employees/workers. Jacob Jankowski is 90 or 93 years old and resides in a nursing home. The circus has come to town and all of the fellow nursing home inhabitants are excited about attending. Unbeknownst to the other residents, at the age of 23 Jacob spent several years working as the veterinarian for The Benzini Bothers Circus. Flashing back and forth between the 1930s and the present day, Jacob narrates the story of his life in the circus and afterwards. On the verge of graduating from veterinary school, Jacob learns of his parent’s tragic death and despair causes him to walk out of his final exams. He jumps a train only to discover that he is in the midst of a traveling circus company. Hired by Uncle Al, the Benzini Brothers’ corrupt owner, Jacob discovers life in a traveling circus is far from glamorous. As the vet, Jacob is a member of the privileged circus staff, and finds himself involved in an awkward relationship with August, his boss, and August’s wife Marlena. Jacob and Marlena work to keep their desire at a distance and are successful at reigning in their desire until a catastrophic event occurs involving August, Jacob, Marlena, and Rosie, Jacob’s beloved circus elephant.

Subject Headings: Circus performers; Reminiscing in old age; Depressions – 1929-1941; Traffic accident victims; Human/animal relations; Parents – Death; Veterinarians; Men/women relations; Triangles (Interpersonal relations); Women circus performers; Circus animals; Women horse trainers; Elephants; Human-animal communication; Manic-depressive men; Circus; Literary Fiction

Appeal: compelling, engrossing, gritty, nostalgic, romantic, dangerous, bittersweet, well-drawn characters, well-developed, first-person narrative, memorable and important secondary characters, authentic, storyline told through flashbacks, tragic, resolved ending, accurate, historical details, lush, descriptive language, detailed settings, circus life, engaging, nostalgic, vivid, emotionally-charged, exciting page-turner

Three Terms that best describe this book: Character-Centered, Romantic, Nostalgic

Similar Authors and Works:

Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Modoc: the true story of the greatest elephant that ever lived by Ralph Helfer is the story of a circus elephant and her dedicated comrade/trainer. (Circus, Circus animals, Human/animal relations, Human-animal communication)

Jumbo: the Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers is the real life tale of Jumbo the elephant and his devoted zookeeper Matthew Scott. Jumbo’s life is traced from Africa to Europe to the United States. His tragic death is preceded by a stint in P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth. (Human/animal relations, Human-animal communication, Circus, Circus animals)

The Tarantula Whisperer: a Celebrity Vet Shares her Secrets to Communication with Animals by Laura Pasten; foreword by Stephanie Laland. This book is an educational and entertaining biography by a veterinarian who offers her tales about communicating with a variety of animals, including elephants. (Human/animal relations, Human-animal communication)

Night after night by Diana Starr Cooper with illustrations by Ivy Starr illustrates life in the Big Apple Circus. Cooper’s reflections focus on animals and performers as well as the shared way of life for both. (Circus, Circus performers, Circus animals)

Under the Big Top: a Season with the Circus by Bruce Feiler is the story of the author’s season with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers troupe and provides an education in circus history. (Circus, Circus performers)

All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot is the real-life story of a veterinarian and his relationships with his animal patients. (Human/animal relations, Human-animal communication, Veterinarians, Memoir)

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter is the story of Sophie, a circus aerialist and Jack, a young writer, who is captivated by her. (Historical fiction, romance, Women circus performers, Men/women relations)

The Aerialist by Richard Schmitt is a novel about the growing relationship of two friends, Gary and Dave, who join the circus as grounds workers. (Circus, Circus performers)

World of Wonders by Robertson Davies is the story of a magician who narrates his life story to coworkers on a film set. (Magicians, Coming of age, Narrative that moves from the present to the past, Reminiscing in old age)

Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull is the story of a soldier who falls in love with his dead military comrade’s girlfriend. (Historical fiction, Romance, Men/women relations, Reminiscing in old age)

Name: Laona Fleischer


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One Response to “Water for Elephants”

  1. famous circus performers Says:

    nice and insteresing story.

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