Confined to a nursing home in old age, Jacob Jankowski in “Water for Elephants” is drawn back to his younger days when a traveling circus stops in his town.
At the age of 23, after his parents’ tragic deaths, Jankowski drops out of veterinary school, hops a train and is drawn in to the world of a traveling circus.
The death of his parents coincides with the Great Depression, leaving Jankowski in an ever-deepening hole.
The author, Sara Gruen, meticulously recreates the everyday lives of those involved in “The Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth,” the traveling circus Jankowski is involved in.
Gruen brings the reader into the story, examing the care of the animals and the intimate relationships that develop.
She brings the ups and downs of the circus to life, developing the hardships it is faced with during the Depression.
The circus moves from town to town, trying to build momentum and rival the ever-famous Ringling Brothers.
The development of characters and Jankowski’s love for the beautiful and loving equestrian, Marlena, creates a dramatic love story within the novel.
The characters are developed effectively, adding dimension and vitality to the story.
Each scene casts the characters in different lights, exploring their thoughts and changing their mindsets.
Gruen focuses on the elephant, Rosie, who is abused by her trainer, August. August is, conveniently, Marlena’s husband.
When Jankowski tries to interfere with Rosie, August attributes it to Jankowski’s somewhat obvious love for Marlena.
The uncertainty and hurt Jankowski feels during his interactions with Marlena is portrayed very effectively by Gruen, intensifying each experience Jankowski has thereafter.
As the plot develops, there are continuous scene changes.
Jankowski starts off in the nursing home, advancing through his memories, and returning again to the threshold of reality in the nursing home.
These transitions add to the characterization of Jankowski because they capitalize on the secrets he’s kept about his past, now being revealed when he’s again confined to a place in life.
The intricate life of an elderly man dealing with his decrepit reality, as well as the memories and secrets from his past, are portrayed with historical accuracy, intertwining the workings of a traveling circus with the workings of a mind in love.
Staff writer Kelly Bleck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org