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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

4.3 (13676 )
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4.3 (6145 )
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4.5 (6065 )
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Regina-Audible USA 12-21-13
    Regina-Audible USA 12-21-13 Member Since 2008

    Audible editor and data evangelist. Lover of fiction, classics, celebrity memoirs, and quirky teen novels.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    90
    ratings
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    "Perfection"

    There's no question why Water for Elephants ranks at the top of the AudibleEssentials list. It's one of those books that comes alive through the voice of the narrators. John Randolph Jones gives a realistically haunting performance as Jacob Jankowski in his nineties while David LeDoux brings passion and innocence to the younger Jacob as he ventures through the fascinating world of a Prohibition-Era circus.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lauren Chicago, IL, United States 12-04-11
    Lauren Chicago, IL, United States 12-04-11 Member Since 2011

    I guess I'm a baby...I just love to be read to.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    151
    ratings
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    192
    57
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    3
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    "MUCH BETTER THAN MOVIE"

    This is a classic example of a book being much better than its movie. If you want theatrics listen to the audiobook because it has a lot of suspense. When you can't put down an audiobook, it means you have headphones on when you are making dinner, eating lunch, doing laundry, at the grocery, etc. etc. That was me with this book.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julie Le Center, MN, USA 04-23-09
    Julie Le Center, MN, USA 04-23-09 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
    117
    ratings
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    45
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    6
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    "Who doesn't love the circus?"

    So how could I resist a story with a circus, a love story, and a right good curmudgeon? I couldn't. This is a wonderful book which hasn't recieved nearly enough attention.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandy Sheboygan, WI, USA 02-19-09
    Sandy Sheboygan, WI, USA 02-19-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    3
    1
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    "A Fabulous Read"

    This book was recommended to me a year or more ago and when I recently joined audible I found it on the top picks list and thought "a sign". I love to listen while working out on the treadmill. Suffice to say this was such "a fabulous read" I would ADD time just to listen longer. I will treasure it always!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    36
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    18
    7
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    "A pleasure to listen..."

    I loved having two readers - one for the old Jacob and one for the young one. I don't want to say why I liked this book so much because that would give away the ending. Just give it a listen - you won't regret it. It was a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. I am still smiling - I love the old Jacob!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Airmont, NY, USA 04-13-08
    Michael Airmont, NY, USA 04-13-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
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    "Very Enjoyable!"

    A topic I never thought that I would enjoy so much. A world that is so far away it's almost alien. My wife read this and raved about it for weeks. So, I (hesitantly) downloaded it. Wow, what a great decision. Highly recommend.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 02-10-07
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 02-10-07 Member Since 2005

    Addicted to Audible!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1107
    ratings
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    324
    166
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    "listened twice"

    This is the first audiobook I have listened to twice. It was truly my favorite book of the year. I selected it for my book club and everyone was unanimous in their praise for the story.Jacob at 90 "or 93" touched us all and made us think about how we treat our old. The story of young Jacob was fast moving and kept my attention. I think this book was greatly enhanced by the excellent perfomances of the 2 readers. I have recommended Water for Elephants to everyone I know. Dont miss this one! It' a gem!

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 04-15-11
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 04-15-11 Member Since 2009

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

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3793
    ratings
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    214
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    "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.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13 Member Since 2012

    So much to learn, and so little time to sit down and read. Thanks Audible.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    393
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    103
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    "A Really Great Story"

    I was really drawn into this story. The author did a great job of developing the characters. I felt really endeared to the main character, and cheered for his success at every turn. In the same way I despised the "villains". Because of my schedule I had to listen to this over a few days. Each night I went to bed thinking about the story, and woke up eager to hop in the car and turn it back on.

    I love thrillers, but after a while the stories all start overlapping in my mind, and it's hard to find something fresh without getting into sci-fi. This book delivers a great story unlike anything else I've heard. It also gave me a little insight into an era of our country's history. I also like it when an author doesn't leave all kinds of loose ends unresolved, and this book was very well written in that regard. I highly recommend it!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Evans Central New Jersey 04-30-11
    D. Evans Central New Jersey 04-30-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "One of the best I've listened to"

    This was one of the best narrated books, and one of the best stories I've listened to, and I've listened to a lot of stories! The narrator did exceptionally well giving each character his or her own voice, and bringing the drama to life. I got so invested in the character of Jacob - I didn't want the story to end! I cried, I laughed, was scared and got angry! I absolutely loved listening to this and would highly recommend it to anyone.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 21-30 of 1096 results PREVIOUS1234110NEXT
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  • 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.

    9 of 9 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.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • A User
    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.........

    6 of 6 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.

    5 of 5 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

    5 of 5 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

    5 of 5 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 !!

    5 of 5 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.

    5 of 5 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.

    15 of 17 people found this review helpful
  • Madge
    Abergavenny, United Kingdom
    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.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 55 results PREVIOUS126NEXT

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