Nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski reflects back on his wild and wondrous days with a circus. It 's the Depression Era and Jacob, finding himself parentless and penniless, joins the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. There he meets the freaks, grifters, and misfits that populate this world. He introduces us to Marlena, beautiful star of the equestrian act; to August, her charismatic but twisted husband (and the circus 's animal trainer); and to Rosie, the seemingly untrainable elephant Jacob cares for. Beautifully written, with a luminous sense of time and place, Water for Elephants tells of love in a world in which love 's a luxury few can afford.