Jacob Jankowski is the novel’s protagonist. He is a ninety-year-old nursing home resident reminiscing on the time he spent in his twenties as a circus veterinarian during the Great Depression. He is a round and dynamic character and the young Jacob and old Jacob both have their own trials and tribulations but stubbornly remain the same man. When he is a couple days short of gaining his degree in veterinary science from Cornell University, Jacob learns that his mother and father have been killed in a car accident. With this stroke of bad luck, Jacob's planned future is suddenly snatched away. As he stumbles through the next weeks in a daze, numbed not only by the cold winter but also by no longer having any family or home, he sees a train pass by in the night. On a sudden impulse, Jacob jumps aboard. The train is moving toward some unknown destination, and Jacob needs a change. He soon to discovers that he has climbed aboard a circus train where he will fall in love, both with circus animals and with a strong woman.
Set during the Great Depression, Water for Elephants, through the eyes of two versions of Jacob Jankowski—one in his nineties and another in his twenties, tells the story of a young man who leaves his life as a Cornell University veterinary student after losing both his parents in a car accident, and jumps onto a train that happens to house the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. After a short confrontation with Blackie, a bouncer that stops stowaways, and Camel, a limp old worker, promising him a job and an audience with Uncle Al, the Ringmaster, Jacob decides to stay aboard the train. Since he has not a home to call his own anymore, he decides to remain with the circus. Jacob is employed as the show’s veterinarian and faces a number of challenges in dealing with the head trainer, August, while also learning how to function in the hierarchy of the circus and falling in love with August's wife, Marlena. The main theme of love adds a high...
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