Jacob, now a 90 or 93-year old man (he can't rightly remember) recounts his life in the circus as a vet. He talks about life on the train, stopping and starting unexpectedly, and the elephant they acquire that requires the working men to go without their wages. The politics and attitudes of each of the circus riff-raff Jacob comes into contact with are vividly portrayed on every page. There is drama, a love story, adventure, and danger at every turn.
Water For Elephants is a well-researched fictional piece of work. Gruen has pulled events which actually happened in circuses around the country, especially during the 20s and 30s. The pictures included at the beginning of each chapter help illustrate the story being told, and the chapters that alternate between Jacob's present and past are great opposites. A fascinating read.