Fictional character Jacob Jankowski, now in his 90’s and living in a nursing home, dazzles us with his tale of joining the circus during the Depression in “Water for Elephants”. He enchants us with his tales of working for the “greatest show on Earth”, which is in reality a show run by a money- and fame-hungry ringmaster who eats steak in the dining car while withholding his employee’s pay. We meet the freaks who are the bread and butter of the show, who beneath the clown makeup and overgrown beards, are people with hearts and stories of their own. We meet a kind-hearted whore and white horses and a Polish elephant named Rosie.
After the sudden death of both his mother and father, aspiring Veterinarian Jacob Jankowski joins the circus and creates a dysfunctional family of his own. He falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful performer who is married to the circus’ schizophrenic animal trainer. He befriends the lovely Rosie, an elephant who understands Polish and who alone can cause shows to sell-out. One night there is a disturbance in the big top and Marlena’s abusive husband is murdered. Jacob must live with his knowledge of who committed the crime until his senior years, when he is living in a nursing home he hates. It is at this point that he chooses to reminiscence with us, and we learn the whole truth.
This was a beautiful, haunting story, one that I’m so glad I had the chance to read. The third novel I’ve read for the Savvy Summer Reading Challenge, I highly recommend this story.
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