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Water for Elephants | [Sara Gruen]

Water for Elephants

Why we think it’s a great listen: Some books are meant to be read; others are meant to be heard – Water for Elephants falls into the second group, and is one of the best examples we have of how a powerful performance enhances a great story. 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.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: Two narrators weave together strands of a story spanning decades. David LeDoux portrays the lead character in his twenties and John Randolph Jones is the same character 70 years later. Both are excellent, but Jones' rough bass filled my head with the joys and pain felt by the old man, in a way that the voice I hear when I read to myself could never have done. One of the most outstanding audiobooks I've ever heard! —Beth Anderson

Publisher's Summary

An atmospheric tale of life and love in a Depression-era traveling circus.

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. Jacob introduces us to Marlena, beautiful star of the equestrian act; to August, her charismatic but twisted husband (and the circus' animal trainer); and to Rosie, a seemingly untrainable elephant.

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.

©2006 Sara Gruen; (P)2006 HighBridge Company

What the Critics Say

  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award, Adult Fiction, 2007
  • Audie Award Finalist, Fiction, Unabridged, 2007

"Water for Elephants resembles stealth hits like The Giant's House, by Elizabeth McCracken, or The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. . . . With a showman's expert timing, [Gruen] saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale.” (New York Times Book Review)

"Just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convince you to suspend your disbelief." (Booklist)

"Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes, and freaks who populate her book." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.4 (15175 )
5 star
 (8573)
4 star
 (4380)
3 star
 (1506)
2 star
 (417)
1 star
 (299)
Overall
4.4 (7497 )
5 star
 (4327)
4 star
 (2005)
3 star
 (809)
2 star
 (218)
1 star
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Story
4.5 (7416 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
 (109)
1 star
 (97)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Edward Wolcott, VT, USA 08-17-07
    Edward Wolcott, VT, USA 08-17-07 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    218
    3
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Water For Elephants"

    This wonderful story allowed me to slip back in time and savor the slower pace of what our now hectic life no longer allows.Truly a memorable experience E.J. Vt.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maureen B. Beck Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 08-17-07
    Maureen B. Beck Minneapolis, Minnesota United States 08-17-07 Member Since 2015
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    5
    1
    Overall
    "Fabulous"

    I really enjoyed this book. Both readers, one for the young Jacob and one for the old Jacob, were incredible. I highly recommend this book to all ages.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mary j aboughadareh 08-16-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    198
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    360
    93
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    12
    0
    Overall
    "Engaging"

    I was instantly engaged in the characters and the story. I could smell the sawdust and popcorn. It introduced me to a new lifestyle. The ending was a little "off", but not so much to spoil the story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Owen Tabor 08-11-07
    Owen Tabor 08-11-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    94
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "great story and reader(s)"

    Very captivating tale and well-read by the narrators. One of my favorite audio books

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Apalachin, NY, USA 08-09-07
    Linda Apalachin, NY, USA 08-09-07
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    24
    2
    Overall
    "Loved it!"

    What a captivatingly sweet story and great narration.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judith 07-31-07
    Judith 07-31-07
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    2
    Overall
    "Mesmerizing"

    Engossing and unforgettable chartacters and plot.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Amsterdam, NY, USA 07-29-07
    Jean Amsterdam, NY, USA 07-29-07 Member Since 2012
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    5
    3
    Overall
    "best I've listened to in a long time"

    The story is relatively simple, but the characters are engrossing. I loved the mix of historical fact with fiction. Her handling of the switch between the 93 yr old Jacob and the 23 year old Jacob was superb! It is truly a story that will stay with me for a very long time. The narrator for the 93 yr old Jacob was especially endearing. This book was so good that I actually put off finishing the last 20 minutes because I didn't want to say "good-bye" to Jacob, Marlena and Rosie!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joan Lenexa, Kansas 07-29-07
    Joan Lenexa, Kansas 07-29-07 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    16
    3
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Water for Elephants"

    This book was by far one of the best I have ever listened to. Thank you for hours of listening entertainment.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carla St Albert, AB, Canada 07-27-07
    Carla St Albert, AB, Canada 07-27-07 Member Since 2011
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    1
    Overall
    "Insightful & unique"

    I loved this book. Insights into the treatment of our wise elders, the life on a circus during the depression... Like nothing I have listened to before. I'll recommend it again and again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mario JohannesburgSouth Africa 07-25-07
    Mario JohannesburgSouth Africa 07-25-07 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    61
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    3
    Overall
    "Water for the soul"

    What a moving story of love and and the desire to live. Fantastic narration made you feel that you experienced the lives of these wonderful characters.

    This book ranks up there with Life of Pi and The time travellers wife.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sort by:
  • Suzannah
    Nottingham, United Kingdom
    8/16/11
    Overall
    "Water for Elephants"

    Both strangely exotic and nostalgically familiar, this tale of tenderness found in the harsh reality of circus life and enduring love stolen from cruelty is captivating and entrancing. Told through the eyes and voices of an old timer and his younger self, it flips from past to present and back again with ease and manages to bring two stories together with equal strength and interest. A beautiful story that is beautifully read by the narrators.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • Fran
    LONDON, United Kingdom
    8/30/11
    Overall
    "wonderful!"

    I listened to this for a second time when I had exhausted my new supply while away.
    And it was just as enthralling as the first listen.

    Brilliantly written and wonderfully read by the two readers.
    I can't recommend it highly enough - one of the best audibles I've listened to.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Kelly
    7/5/11
    Overall
    "A true love story"

    A true love story written to thrive in the 21st Centry, from the charactors to the plot line its well written and addictive.........

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Swindon, United Kingdom
    11/15/11
    Overall
    "The film does not even get close."

    I could not put this book down.
    I remember exactly where I was when things happened in this book.
    The character of the old man is explored to the fullest extend, this character made the story, and was completely overlooked in the film version.
    Perfect for a holiday, or summer commutes, as I did.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • w
    east horsley, United Kingdom
    11/7/11
    Overall
    "loved it"

    Unusual subject and not one I would normally choose. It made me laugh and cry. Brilliant. Do read it

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Claire
    Yate, United Kingdom
    10/30/11
    Overall
    "Absorbing"

    I wasn't sure if I was going to like this audiobook when I started listening to it as I found the hopping between the current and past a little hard going and the older person's voice difficult to understand at times. But, I'm glad I perservered with it. The story is very original and draws you in. Worth a listen

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • joanna
    Bingham, United Kingdom
    10/2/11
    Overall
    "Wonderfully engaging Big Top Book"

    This book tells the story of a young man thrown into the life of a circus worker after his parents are killed. The wonderful transition between times takes the listening into two very different but equally compelling settings. Brilliant !!

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs
    Twickenham, United Kingdom
    6/30/11
    Overall
    "Great Original Story"

    Great to read an original book for a change. I knew nothing about the american circus trains, and now I do! Takes place during the American Depression. The love story is a bit lame but otherwise a terrific listen.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Annie
    Derby
    10/22/10
    Overall
    "I Loved it!"

    A really enjoyable listen, on a par with 'The Help'. This has been one of those books I couldn't wait to get back to; it was really well structured and well read, I was thoroughly entertained the whole way through. I highly recommend this audiobook.

    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • Annette Morris
    7/18/11
    Overall
    "Enjoyed every single second …."

    It left me wanting more…. I did not want the story to end. I laughed and cried. This is a tale simply told, an account that was both funny & sad, on times illustrating the cruelty inherent in some human beings and the goodness of others. The narration was outstanding, it brought the wonderful characters to life and I could really see them through ‘Jacobs’ eyes. It also made me think about the value we place on our elderly population. Can’t wait to watch the film, hope it lives up to the book.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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