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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.
Regular Price:$24.46
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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 (13598 )
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4.3 (6075 )
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4.5 (5994 )
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Matt east bentleigh, VIC, Australia 02-12-10
    Matt east bentleigh, VIC, Australia 02-12-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
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    14
    5
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    2
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    "Wonderful!"

    a great story and beautifully narrated. loved the two voices of jacob and all of the characters through the book. sometimes was hard to listen to the cruelty to rosie and imagining the awful lives of some of the animals especially the polar bear locked in a cage in the heat of a sweltering summer in america.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Irenehope Gold Canyon, AZ , USA 05-01-08
    Irenehope Gold Canyon, AZ , USA 05-01-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    89
    ratings
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    152
    18
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    1
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    Overall
    "Under the Big Top"

    There aren't that many books written in the first person, by an old man reminiscing. Nor are there many books written about circus life. This book compared favorable with the two others I've read. The plot was a bit predictable, but all in all it was a memorable read. It brought you back to the Great Depression & the hardness of life. It also introduced you to characters who made the best of things & developed friendships & loyalties along the way.I loved the animals, each with his/her personality. I thought this was a part that could have been expanded on. I cared about the people, and both endings were completely satisfying. In fact, I wish the story had continued a little more. And yes, I did sit in my car to finish chapters.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patti Chittenango, NY, United States 01-31-08
    Patti Chittenango, NY, United States 01-31-08 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    592
    ratings
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    504
    286
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    Overall
    "One of My All Time Favorites!"

    Initially drawn by the mention of my hometown, this book drew me in quick! I loved the use of the older voice and the younger voice. It truly added dramatic appeal.

    As a nurse, I was shamed by a realistic portrayal of nursing home life. As an animal lover, I was amused and enthralled by circus stories. As a woman, I was thrilled with the romance and chivalry. I did not want to stop listening.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathryn Tazewell, VA, United States 09-10-07
    Kathryn Tazewell, VA, United States 09-10-07

    I've been an avid, constant reader since I learned to read at age 5. I ALWAYS have a book going while quilting, cross-stitching, or painting

    HELPFUL VOTES
    57
    ratings
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    67
    12
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    3
    1
    Overall
    "I Never Dreamed I Would Love This Book..."

    But not only did I love it, I have told everyone I know that they simply MUST read it. The narration is excellent, which is always wonderful when that happens. But the story itself is gripping. The writing is so descriptive that you can smell the roasting peanuts, taste the grit in the dusty air, and feel the ropes slide in your hand.

    While yes, it is a circus story, it is so much more. It is a life lived-- reflected upon from the beginning by Jacob who is now 90 (or is it 93? He can't remember) years old and in a dreaded nursing home. It is a story about nursing home care, circus life, the Depression, mental illness, alcoholism, love, and trains.

    Because I am a strict animal lover who cannot tolerate abuse in books, I want to warn others. There is some very limited abuse in the book, but trust me-- it doesn't last long, and it is WELL worth it when you get to the ending. EXCELLENT ending!! Brava to the author!

    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 2002

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

    HELPFUL VOTES
    111
    ratings
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    55
    29
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    "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
  •  
    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
    26
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    22
    12
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    "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.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    51
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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.

    15 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Millville , NJ, USA 06-08-06
    Jeff Millville , NJ, USA 06-08-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    34
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    13
    2
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    "Good, but a little to sweet"

    Very well read. I was hoping it wouldn't be a chick book, and I was pleasantly supprised. I think the voice helps give it a little realness. Somewhat akin to The Time Travelor's Wife in scope and theme, this book is an excelent summer read, or listen, whatever the case may be.

    30 of 39 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    42
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    88
    24
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    4
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    Story
    "What's all the fuss about?"

    2.5 stars...

    I don't understand why everybody raves so much about this book. While not terrible, I found the story to be predictable and mostly pointless.

    The performances were pretty good. Overall though, I found this book to be a 10-hour chore with little reward.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 07-07-11
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 07-07-11 Member Since 2010

    I will listen to NO boring book. Old Fav's,Card, King , Hobb. New Fav's, Hill, Scalzi, Sawyer, Interested in Lansdale, Crouch, Konrath

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1489
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    "Just Plain Good Story"

    You could listen to this for it's historical perspective, living in a circus, living during the great depression, living in a nursing home. I liked it because it was just a plain old good story. I listened not because I wanted to know what was going to happen, but because it was a pleasure to listen to what was happening as it was happening. I liked the characters, I felt for the characters, I hurt when they did and was happy when they where. This seems to have been advertised as a romance, which has chased away the men readers. I believe this to be a huge mistake, as it has very little romance. The manly men will appreciate the rough and tough guys who survive living on a Show. I also want to mention that the narration in this audible is perfect. At times I was disappointed in the main character's cowardliness, but that is probably more true to life.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 31-40 of 1092 results PREVIOUS1345110NEXT
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.

    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 54 results PREVIOUS126NEXT

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