Set during the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski's life had been turned upside down when he became orphaned and homeless at the very time that he was to graduate Veterinary school. As luck would have it, he hopped on board a passing train, which just happened to be the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Before he knew it, he was put in charge of taking care of the circus animal menagerie. Amid the strange and sadistic world of this second-rate, down on its luck circus, Jacob falls in love with Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, who is married to the sick, twisted and cruel circus boss. Jacob is determined to protect Marlena and Rosie, the lovable elephant, from her husband's abusive, sadistic behavior.
I was totally prepared not to like Water for Elephants
, since the subject is a circus during the Great Depression. Sounded depressing to me. However, this story is both brutal and poignant - brutal in Gruen's description of the filthy, squalid atmosphere of the mangy circus atmosphere; and poignant in the intimate, loving relationships that the circus performers have with the animals. It is a story which would appeal to men and women alike. It has something for everyone, especially if you're an animal love. I found it very interesting that it was written by a woman in a man's voice, which she accomplished very well.