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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

4.4 (15151 )
5 star
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4.4 (7475 )
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Story
4.5 (7395 )
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1 star
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    58
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    59
    18
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "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.

    17 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandy Sheboygan, WI, USA 02-19-09
    Sandy Sheboygan, WI, USA 02-19-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "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!

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura 04-09-08
    Laura 04-09-08 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    104
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    352
    25
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    5
    3
    Overall
    "Best Story On Earth"

    From the characters to the vivid descriptions to the wide range of emotions, this book had me mesmerized. The descriptions are powerful and moving. You see each of the different character perspectives of the so clearly, some of your own perceptions may change. You may even learn a few things along the way as I did. It's no wonder this audiobook was chosen as the Best of 2006.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 02-10-07
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 02-10-07 Member Since 2006

    Addicted to Audible!

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1539
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    353
    194
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    443
    2
    Overall
    "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!

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ella toronto,, Ontario, Canada 09-30-06
    Ella toronto,, Ontario, Canada 09-30-06 Member Since 2013

    Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1214
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    339
    104
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    151
    5
    Overall
    "Pleasantly Surprised"

    Wow! This one's a keeper. I really wasn't sure if I should take a chance on this book as the description of it did not really appeal to me. I was just overwhelmed with the positive feedback from fellow listeners, so I thought I would give it a try....and am I ever glad I did! This was one of my all time favorite listens.
    The narration was excellent, the story line was interesting and moving. I could have done with a little less animal abuse, but I can see why it was written in, it was necessary to bring part of the story together.
    Recommended Highly! You won't be disappointed!

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Millville , NJ, USA 06-08-06
    Jeff Millville , NJ, USA 06-08-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    34
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    13
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "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 40 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt east bentleigh, VIC, Australia 02-12-10
    Matt east bentleigh, VIC, Australia 02-12-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    14
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    2
    0
    Overall
    "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 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Provo, UT, USA 03-21-08
    Carol Provo, UT, USA 03-21-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    21
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Excellent but Explicit"

    Overall, I enjoyed this audio book very much. The writing style was rich, the story line interesting. The narrators were excellent and turned the book into a drama. It was like listening to an old time radio show. My objection is this: for those of us concerned with explicit sex in our reading material, there should be some kind of a warning. Although this book only had two raunchy scenes, this was enough to cause me to only give the book 4 stars instead of 5.

    12 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    37
    ratings
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    21
    8
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    Overall
    "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 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Airmont, NY, USA 04-13-08
    Michael Airmont, NY, USA 04-13-08 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    136
    14
    FOLLOWERS
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    0
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    Overall
    "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 5 people found this review helpful
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  • Mrs
    Rayleigh Essex, United Kingdom
    1/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Did not want it to end!"

    This a wonderful story, and so well read by both narrators. It is a very moving and interesting insight in to the circus world. Never once did it lack in interest, I wanted it to go on for ever.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Vanda
    Sandown, United Kingdom
    12/5/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Worth a listen"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Water for Elephants to be better than the print version?

    I don't know, I've never read the print version but having said that I liked listening to it.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Rosie the elephant was my favourite character. She endured so much and got her own back in the end.


    Which character – as performed by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones – was your favourite?

    Walter the midget


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Yes, when he lost his parents and described how he felt. After losing someone very important it dug up all those feelings of loss and grief.


    Any additional comments?

    Don't read this book if you're feeling particularly down about anything ... It will make you feel worse.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Laura
    Woking, United Kingdom
    8/2/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Good story and developed characters"

    I enjoyed this book very much and thought the characters were very believable. The life in a travelling circus is brought to life, as is the side story of the old gentleman.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Kat
    BASINGSTOKE, United Kingdom
    5/7/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "awesome book! and so nicely written"

    What a gorgeous story. I watched the movie first but the movie doesnt do this captivating story any good! its like entering a whole new magical captivating world back in time

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • BWebster
    UK
    4/16/13
    Overall
    "Brilliant brilliant brilliant"

    Yes, brilliant! The storyline and the characters really draw you in. They say things and think things that are so personally familiar! There's the perfect balance of shock, adventure, sex, violence, suspense, sadness, comedy and romance. I very much liked both of the narrators' voices too. They really draw you into the story and the characters. I enjoyed listening to them both out and about and in bed before sleep. Brilliant.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Sarah
    Ashford, United Kingdom
    4/13/13
    Overall
    "Excellent story and well read"

    I found this a particularly enjoyable book to listen to. I thought that the use of the two voices, one as the older Jacob and one as the young Jacob, was very effective and kept a clear distinction between the time frames that the story was taking place in. At times the voice of 'old' Jacob could become a bit frustrating as it slowed down the pace of the piece but it did not spoil the book.



    I thought the use of music in the book was particularly good and is something that I have not come across in other audio books that I have listened to. It provided a real atmosphere to the piece but without interrupting it as it would drift in gently at the end or the beginning of chapters.



    On the whole I would highly recommend this as an audible book, particularly for those who have seen the film as it is so much more in depth without losing the character creation that endears the film.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Joe
    Kilkenny, Ireland
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Great read"

    I've been meaning to read this since 2006 based on great reviews all over the place, and the movie release reminded me to pick it up. Although the movie reviews are mixed, it's not surprising this was adapted by Hollywood as it almost reads like a screenplay. I enjoyed the writing, but it was a little too linear, and while there were some interesting twists along the way it was always pretty predictable where the story was going. I can't help thinking the author missed a great opportunity to make this a truly unique story, rather than a familiar romance plot in unusual surroundings. That said, the unusual surroundings are the book's saving grace; despite having no special interest in the circus, I found the detail and description of depression era life in a travelling circus fascinating.



    The characters are less fascinating. Jacob is a little too perfect as the naive and virtuous hero of the piece. The writing for his older self is sensitively pieced together and is a strong point, but his young self is less so. Marlena was the pretty damsel and that was about as far as her character went. August was the bad guy, with a not very successful attempt to give him a complex schizophrenic personality. The supporting characters in the circus were actually developed better, including the Rosie the elephant.



    Ultimately though, I really enjoyed the story despite some basic inadequacies. I'm not exactly sure why, but there was something endearing about the story that made me want to see how it would all end. And even though the two endings (historic and contemporary) were much to easy/perfect, feel good endings are not always a bad thing.



    This is a 3.5 star really, but Audible doesn't do halves and this is worthy of more than a 3.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Nils
    Olstykke, Denmark
    2/27/13
    Overall
    "Simply wonderful"

    The plot is faultless, the language never fails (except that I doubt that the term G-string was used for anything other than musical instruments in the 1930s...), emotions are stirred, and, topping it all, the narration is a true work of art, especially Jacob at 90 (or 93).



    I loved it!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Julie
    woking, United Kingdom
    2/22/13
    Overall
    "Excellent"

    This is the first review I have written, but about the tenth book I have listened to. I felt compelled to share that this is the best book I have listened to by far. The narration of both ages made this book for me, I was hooked from the off, more so the excellent narrative of 93yr old Jacob. If you would like a nice easy to read listen to, then this is it. I will be watching the film in the next few days to compare but they will need to go a long way to beat the audio book. Now I've got to find my next commuting book..

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Lorna Chester
    UK
    1/26/13
    Overall
    "Really, really, really good"

    A brilliant listen -I had no trouble with the accents -it's just a great listen. Don't hesitate to buy it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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