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Water for Elephants Audiobook

Water for Elephants

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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 (16871 )
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4.4 (9049 )
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4.5 (8970 )
5 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    fred greensboro nc 04-08-08
    fred greensboro nc 04-08-08 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    133
    ratings
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    140
    90
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    4
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    Overall
    "You must be patient"

    You must be patient to enjoy this book. It is not the fastest listen. A batch of interesting characters who change throughut the years. The circus is a great backdrop for some wonderful character development.

    22 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonny 10-06-13
    Bonny 10-06-13

    Addicted to books, both print and audio-.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    805
    ratings
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    87
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    Story
    "Poor writing"

    I did not finish this book, so take that into consideration in reading this review. This book has been recommended to me by several people. I enjoyed the opening and really liked John Randolph Jones's narration. Once we got into the story of his younger self, however, the writing was so cliched and the dialogue so stereotypical that I felt I'd read the book many times before. It seemed like a book that would be titled "I Traveled With the Circus" aimed at 10-year-olds. I came back to it a few times but grew so irritated with the writing that I abandoned the project. I should have listened to Janice!

    17 of 21 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Frisco, TX, United States 05-31-11
    Mark Frisco, TX, United States 05-31-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    68
    2
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    "I don't get it"

    The pace was too slow and there really was no point to it all. I almost turned it off on five different occasions, but fought through it only to be ultimately disappointed. I never write reviews, but felt compelled to do so on this one: Don't believe the hype -- this book is average at best, a waste of time at worst.

    13 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert GOLDENS BRIDGE, NEW YORK, United States 07-31-10
    Robert GOLDENS BRIDGE, NEW YORK, United States 07-31-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    48
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    23
    12
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    2
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    Overall
    "Channeling Franklin W. Dixon"

    Imagine, for a moment that the author of the Hardy Boys chose another pen name and wrote a book about a young man who joins the circus and finds true love. Although I did manage to finish the book (I wouldn't make that choice again), I am surprised by the high ratings this title has received. Be warned; I'm hanging the red lantern on this circus train. The protagonist does everything but say 'aw shucks'. He is practically forced into sex by women who unzip him, thus escaping all responsibility. And the writing includes such gems as "solid as an oblisk; viscous as water". Viscous as water? Given the ratings, there must be a good audience for this kind of book.... but I'm not it.

    13 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nathan SPRINGVILLE, UT, United States 11-23-15
    Nathan SPRINGVILLE, UT, United States 11-23-15 Member Since 2013

    Love my family...along with guitars, road bikes, cameras, and a good book!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    109
    ratings
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    202
    197
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    3
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    Performance
    Story
    "Much more than expected."

    I read this book in reverse order of how I like to read books. I watched the movie first. That being said, I really didn't go into this novel with many preconceived ideas about what to expect. The book does have some minor differences, and one fairly major one, but I won't spoil any of those for future readers. Those differences did make the story a little more enjoyable for me, even if it was only from the standpoint that they were fresh ideas.

    The story told in this book is wonderfully unique. It is a story about relationships. It is a story about lives being derailed. It is a story about the cruel side of of life during the great depression, and it is told very well.

    The idea of having 2 different narrators is not one that I usually embrace. I like to get into the grove of the narrator, and that becomes the overall feel of the novel for me. In this instance, however, the dual narrators worked rather well, as the novel is told from two viewpoints of the same man about 6 decades apart. Having the old and young versions of the hero read by different people actually added to the experience. Overall a great book, and a great listen!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bill Kailua Kona, HI, United States 09-08-12
    Bill Kailua Kona, HI, United States 09-08-12 Member Since 2016

    The Path Between the Seas to The Great Bridge ~ Kagan's Peloponnesian War to Gaddis' Cold One ~ Mornings on Horseback to a River of Doubt ~ Tom to Huck ~ Lennie to Charley ~ Cadfael to Cross ~ Rhyme to Reacher ~ Blomkvist and Salander to Wallander and Wallander ~ Moving Cheese or Eating Frogs ~ On the Road and Into Thin Air ~ The End of History to A Short History of Everything to ... well ... everything else.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    513
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    223
    47
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    Story
    "What Are You Waiting For?"

    If you have not read, or listened, to this wonderful book yet, do it now. A beautiful story of memories lost and found, of young love and a life lived well, of courage and its consequences, and of elephants! (well, at least one).

    This is one of those novels you will listen to more than once.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very Disappointed"

    Unfortunately, for me, this book disappointed in every way. The plot was a cliched love story that stumbled around to an unrealistic happy Hollywood ending, the characters were either shallow or exagerrated caricatures, the language felt inappropriately contemporary which questioned the historical worth of the book, the animals were embarrassingly anthropomorphized and the narrators were extremely annoying (particularly Jacob's).

    I hope for better luck next time.

    19 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 04-15-11
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 04-15-11 Member Since 2016

    Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    5070
    ratings
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    Story
    "Glad I finally read it"

    An entire world contained in the circus. Animals from around-the-world but more, people of all kinds too: the good, the bad, the really, really bad. Life is too short, I seldom read a book that was not well received either by the critics or the public at large. I am still often disappointed, but not this time. The story was unique in many ways and not always because of its characters, though they certainly were that. The characters are well-developed and we care about its heros and heroines. The compare-and-contrast of the young and old protagonist is nicely done as is the music in between. My only personal criticism is that I think the end of the ending could have been dispensed with. It seemed incongruous and contrived. But hey, I'm no author; what do I know. With regard to the circus itself, I don't know how isomorphic with reality the book might be. While it has obviously sold well in our time and place, it's difficult to say whether it will become a classic. It sure is a nice, simple and entertaining story for now. Most would give the book 5 stars and I'm good with that. I have just read too many 5 star books to put this one into that same league.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wolfpacker Fort Mill, SC 10-14-08
    Wolfpacker Fort Mill, SC 10-14-08 Member Since 2014

    Curtis

    HELPFUL VOTES
    883
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    "Order This Book Even if You Don't Like the Circus"

    This book is a moving story centered around a circus, of all places. I'll have to say that the circus theme didn't interest me and almost made me not order this book. I'm glad I took a chance based on all of the great reviews.
    The narration by the old Jacob is worth the price of admission alone. I could really imagine myself with a young mind stuck in an old body. So believable! The story he recalls through the young Jacob's narration is also remarkable. And the ending is fantastic.

    Take a chance like I did even if you don't like the circus. You won't regret it.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane R. Katz Syracuse, NY United States 07-24-06
    Diane R. Katz Syracuse, NY United States 07-24-06 Listener Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
    ratings
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    11
    4
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    1
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    Overall
    "WOW!!"

    What a book!! From the very first paragraph I was hooked. The author's descriptions of people, places, and especially the animals were incredible--I could see it all clearly in my mind. Both the narrators were great. I was truly sorry when the book ended.

    7 of 9 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
  • holly bird
    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
  • Madgey
    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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