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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 (15158 )
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4.5 (7400 )
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    fred greensboro nc 04-08-08
    fred greensboro nc 04-08-08 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    125
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    139
    89
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    4
    0
    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 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonny 10-06-13
    Bonny 10-06-13

    Addicted to books, both print and audio-.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    568
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    97
    66
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    79
    13
    Overall
    Performance
    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!

    15 of 17 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
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
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    Overall
    "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 15 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 2009

    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
    341
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    182
    43
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    100
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    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 9 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
    38
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    23
    12
    FOLLOWERS
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    2
    0
    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.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Helen Sydney, Australia 07-18-13
    Helen Sydney, Australia 07-18-13

    Composer, reader, hommus eater

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    3
    2
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Performance
    Story
    "Listen, it's good but not great"

    This is beautifully performed, and it's a mammoth work so the two performers did excellently to keep pace.
    However: the book itself has some holes in it. Firstly, it gets monotonous. It's sort of two toned the whole way - even in the high action part, the circus story part, it has this sort of one-dimensional 'main character does something naughty- lots of swearing occurs - bad stuff happens' cycle which leaves you waiting for something to happen - and when the climax of action does happen, you're left feeling a bit hollow because it just feels very similar to everything that's happened before.
    Also, the women aren't written particularly well, which is kind of odd coming from a female author (sexism, much Helen? Oh dear.) No really, in all honesty I wanted the lady characters to have bit more nous than this sort of flimsy damsel in distress feel that might be typical of an early 20th century pulp novel but really has no place in 21st century dramatic realist literature.
    There are some beautifully profound moments by the old guy though, which I found really touching, and thought provoking too.
    But seriously Gruen, step up your women characters!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandra Philomath, OR, United States 08-05-06
    Sandra Philomath, OR, United States 08-05-06 Member Since 2004

    I like unabridged novels. When I first joined Audible, many were abridged. That has changed. Non-fiction, politics, bios are favorites

    HELPFUL VOTES
    128
    ratings
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    55
    29
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    4
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    Overall
    "Sweet"

    I loved this book. There were so many interactions to focus on but the one I liked the best was between Rosemary and the 93 or 90 year old resident of the nursing home. I have been to many nursing homes and realize how hard it is to see the people "parked" outside their rooms as anything but furniture. Rosemary was a great example of grace. Her kind attention to this one old man was a center piece of the the book. She just took time to listen and care.

    3 of 3 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 Member Since 2015
    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 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wolfpacker Fort Mill, SC 10-14-08
    Wolfpacker Fort Mill, SC 10-14-08

    Curtis

    HELPFUL VOTES
    704
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    350
    152
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    78
    3
    Overall
    "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 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tricia - Audible NJ, United States 04-13-12
    Tricia - Audible NJ, United States 04-13-12 Member Since 2010

    Constantly in search of the perfect listen.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    196
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    205
    23
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    234
    22
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Wonderful!"

    The author puts together a complex and touching story. By focusing on two distinct periods of Jacob’s life, the listener is given an intensely rich picture of him as person and of the world he lives in. At first glance it would be easy to dismiss Jacob as being just another bitter and disgruntled old guy. By learning the back story of the pivotal part of his life spent with the circus, the listener comes to a deeper understanding of him as a man.

    As a historic novel, this book also provides a richly descriptive portrayal of life in the circus in the 1930’s; a time and place that will never be repeated. We all have ideas of what the circus is like, and what the Depression might have been like, but putting the two together is something completely unique.

    Overall, both narrators are excellent. Older Jacob is brilliant. The narration perfectly portrays his gruff exterior and thoughtfully conflicted interior. He comes across as being completely authentic. Young Jacob is also quite good. My only criticism is with how he does the female voices. They’re just a little off the mark, and this is sometimes distracting.

    6 of 7 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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