Water for Elephants Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Water for Elephants

The story is about a young man that joins the circus. Jacob is an old man and he lives in a nursing home. The old people from the nursing home are about to visit a circus that showed up in the vicinity of their place. Jacob is watching the circus tents from his window. At some point he starts reminiscing about his own life as a young man and the events that lead to his joining of the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth in the 1930's.
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The plot is moving back and forth, meandering between Jacob's life as a young man and his life in the nursing home.

Jacob Jankowski was a student at Cornell University. He was supposed to finish his exams, graduate, become a veterinarian and join his father's practice back home. Suddenly, he is announced that both his parents are dead. They died in a car accident. On the other hand, he finds out that all their possessions are being taken away because the parents were deeply in debt at the bank.

Jacob leaves the university and runs away. Because he is tired of walking he jumps in a moving train without knowing that he boarded a train that transported the animals of the Benzini Brothers circus. He will be employed by the circus, first as a simple worker and then as a veterinarian.

After a while, Jacob meets and befriends August and his wife Marlena, a couple of performers from the circus. August is a paranoid, violent, sick man and he mistreats his wife.

Jacob falls is love with Marlena but their love can not flourish because they are afraid that August will find out and kill them both.

At some point, the circus acquires an elephant named Rosie. August tries to teach her some tricks but the elephant is stubborn. August is not a patient man so he beats and injures Rosie with a hook.

Rosie finally learns something but during her performance along August, the elephant kills the man in a stampede.

Jacob and Marlena left the circus after the incident. They got married and had a couple of children and lived a peaceful life.

On the other hand, old Jacob hates his life in the nursing home. His son is supposed to take him to the nearby circus but he doesn't show up. So Jacob goes by himself and ends up joining the circus again.
Best part of story, including ending: I liked the love story between Jacob and Marlena and I learned a lot of interesting things about the circus life.

Best scene in story: I have to say this. I enjoyed the scene where Rosie killed August.

Opinion about the main character: I liked Jacob as a character. He is full of life and ambition and he is a sensitive guy at the same time.

The review of this Book prepared by Andreea Lupei a Level 5 American Goldfinch scholar

Chapter Analysis of Water for Elephants

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   very sensitive (sigh) Time/era of story    -   1930's-1950's Life of a profession:    -   circus Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Job/Profession/Status story    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   unemployed Age:    -   20's-30's Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American) Unusual characteristics:    -   Extremely cynical or arrogant


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   5 () United States    -   Yes Misc setting    -   moving train

Writing Style

Sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   descript of kissing Amount of dialog    -   significantly more dialog than descript

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Sara Gruen Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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