Set in the Depression era of America Water for Elephants follows the journey of Jacob Jankowski as we flip from his past memories to his present day life as an elderly man stuck in a nursing home. Jacob, the young Jacob of his memories, is a promising Vet to be at a prestigious school when a freak car accident leads to the death of his parents and the discovery that due to the desperate times his father has been working for free essentially and there is no money and the family home and belongs now belong to the bank. Jacob is left grief stricken and with nothing and in a fit of madness or realisation he leaves his life behind and jumps a train out of town. The train in question is a travelling circus; The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular show on Earth, and Jacob falls into a life he never expected and relationships he never thought he’d make.
The story jumps from past and present but you almost need these mini breaks to catch your breath in between the drama, tension and high life of the circus life. I just loved the style that oozed from this book and the setting. I love the glamourous image that the circus holds and the lingo and dialect that has developed among the self imposed hierarchy of the circus workers and performers. It’s a self contained society and yet it only exists when it appears in other people’s lives from town to town; only to be torn down when they move to the next. All the people in the book hold a special part in the world of Water for Elephants and Jacob’s life as he learns to cope with his life and what he wants to do now that his planned life has been ripped from him.
The animals in the Benzini Brothers circus hold a real heart to the story for Jacob because he is a vet and has that strong bound with them because they don’t hold judgement like the circus people do to start with. Rosie the elephant is one of the two women in his life and he is just as enchanted with her as he is with Marlena, the wife of August and the talent performer in the horse act that drips with charm and a pure heart. Jacob’s fascination with both these females proves very dangerous because of his place in the pecking order of the Circus and the man that holds power over them both, August. August switches back and forth from Jacob’s trusted comrade to sworn enemy in a series of events and you never quite know what August will do next depending on his mood. It’s terrifying to read because you hold your breath waiting for each reply to questions of actions.
This book was truthfully a moving narrative and I, someone that has accused of having a heart made of coal, found myself tearing up at the end of the story. It was heart warming without being overly sappy and really hits you at how raw this existence is. It doesn’t hold back or glosses over the lifestyle from sex to violence. This story may not be for all ages or readers that don’t like these subject matters but I loved hearing the Jacob’s words both as a young and older man. In a way it was more saddening to hear both their lives switching back and forth because they both have obstacles to overcome and desires. Age does not stop you dreaming and wishing and knowledge and money doesn’t mean you are limited in living life to the fullest. Water for Elephants shows you to appreciate what you have and that the old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ can also be applied to relationships, people and elephants.
I really want an elephant.
Published by Hodder& Stoughton and is available at now in paperback
The film version of the book is on general release now and stars Robert Pattinson, Reece Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz