Water for Elephants (2006)

by Sara Gruen

Jacob Jankowski is living in a senior home in his 90s when a circus is coming to town. His mind flashes back to his experience working for a traveling circus during the Depression.

Jacob had been taking his final exams in veterinary school at Cornell when he received word that his parents had been killed in a car crash. They had mortgaged their property for Jacobís education; he was left penniless. Stunned, he hops a train that turns out to belong to a traveling circus. He is hired as the circus vet. Jacobís recollections give us an inside view of life in a second-rate circus ó the human freaks, the class distinctions between performers and workers, the desperation to hold on to belittling jobs, and the animal cruelty. Central to the plot are the developing relationship between Jacob and the star equestrienne, who is married to he schizophrenic equine master, and the bond between Jacob and an elephant who understands only commands in Polish.

Author Sara Gruen balances the behind-the-scenes sordidness with audiencesí enchantment with the circus. She has much sympathy for the captive animals, although some of the scenes will be hard for animal lovers to read.

Chapters move between the flashback scenes and Jacobís present-day frustration with his aged body and othersí condescending treatment of him. It is the circus that saves him in the end.


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