21-year-old Jacob Jankowski is studying veterinary medicine in 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression, when his parents are killed in an auto accident. Jacob discovers they had mortgaged their lives to fund his schooling, and he is now penniless. Reeling from grief, he walks away from his final exams and drops out of school. While casting about for a job, he stumbles into a position as a vet for a third-rate traveling circus, and the wild adventure of his life begins. He soon falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful animal stunt rider, and at the same time must protect the animals in his care from the sadistic cruelty of Marlena’s circus boss husband.
My mom gave Water For Elephants to me for Christmas, so it was one of the first things I wanted to read this year. I loved it – Gruen’s writing is smooth and fluid, and her detailed research on circus life during the Depression immerses you in the scene, and Jacob’s fascinating life carries you along.
It’s on the New York Times bestseller list, and it’s not surprising why; it’s a great read.
Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen