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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 (17110 )
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4.4 (9269 )
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4.6 (9190 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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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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    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 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patti Louisville, CO, USA 11-21-09
    Patti Louisville, CO, USA 11-21-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
    ratings
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    49
    3
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    1
    0
    Overall
    "How Delightful!"

    What a pleasant surprise. As a lover of historical fiction, I really enjoyed this story set mostly in Depression-era America about, of all things, a young verterinarian who joins a circus. The two narrators, the young and elderly version of the main character, add depth to an already-captivating story. The book is also a tale of life and adventure on the American railroad. This was the era that my parents grew up in and I could hear my father in the pitch-perfect voice of the older Jacob.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marius Irene, South Africa 08-19-09
    Marius Irene, South Africa 08-19-09 Member Since 2016
    HELPFUL VOTES
    514
    ratings
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    186
    115
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    Overall
    "Really Good, just misses Great"

    I enjoyed this immensely. The two narrators David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones do a fine job. The story flows well, and the atmosphere is strong, and authentic. The story loses a star for two reasons: First, despite Jacob's good nature, he has a complete lack of self-awareness, and the author seems unaware of this. Second, the story ultimately ignores Rosie. I'll say no more, or I'd be a spoiler.

    5 of 7 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
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    0
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    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 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maria Adkins 10-23-06 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    72
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    290
    26
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    4
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    Overall
    "fast-paced historical fiction"

    This book revolves around a veterinarian named Jacob Jankowski who fell on hard times during the Great Depression and ended up joining the circus as the exotic animal veterinarian. The book switches back and forth from the 93 year-old Jacob to his memories of his youth. It was a fascinating look at life in the circus – from its spectacular shows with animals and acrobats, romances and friendships, to the terrifying way this ring leader treated animals, workers who were thrown from the train when not needed, and the extreme poverty of the 1930’s. You will learn a lot about elephants, and the elephant, Rosie, definitely stole every scene she was in. At the end of the book I wanted to reach out to the old man Jacob and hug him. The narration was perfect.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hollis Laguna beach, ca 10-14-06
    Hollis Laguna beach, ca 10-14-06 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
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    32
    4
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    0
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    "loved this book"

    We listened to this great book on a long road trip. I really liked the way it went back and forth from current time when the main character was in a nursing home (very poignant) to when he was young and his experience in the circus. Great character development and story.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    YoginiZora Maine 10-12-06
    YoginiZora Maine 10-12-06 Listener Since 2005

    yoginizora

    HELPFUL VOTES
    106
    ratings
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    14
    9
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    1
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    Overall
    "exquisite and riveting"

    I concur with the many 5-star reviews for this audiobook: it's sensational. The two narrators bring an already exquisite story to life. Whoever chose these two talented readers deserves a place in the Audiobook Hall of Fame.

    Although the book it's around 12 hours, it unfolded well (only rarely did I feel impatient with its pace). I found myself looking for any excuse to get in the car or to go for a walk, just to listen to another chapter of this book. I was surprised by its poignant treatment of aging, as well as the twisting plot that chugged along to the dissonant ending. Highly recommended!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ella toronto,, Ontario, Canada 09-30-06
    Ella toronto,, Ontario, Canada 09-30-06 Member Since 2016

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

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1457
    ratings
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    339
    104
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    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 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy United States 09-29-06
    Kathy United States 09-29-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Listen"

    Wonderfully crafted story, colorful believable characters, very well performed. I look forward to this author's next book

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adrienne Camp Connell, CA, United States 09-15-06
    Adrienne Camp Connell, CA, United States 09-15-06 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    121
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    49
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    Overall
    "Disappointing!"

    After reading all of the rave reviews I was prepared to love this book. I didn't hate it, but I can't say that I found it to be great literature. The relationship between the 3 main characters was reminiscent of Sophie's Choice, but that is the only thing it had in common with a truly great book. I thought the story was predictable and at times corny. Maybe I just expect more of books, but this is not one I would recommend.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
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  • ROBIN
    Reading, United Kingdom
    4/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Boring"
    What would have made Water for Elephants better?

    It has potential for human interest.


    If you’ve listened to books by Sara Gruen before, how does this one compare?

    Sorry but no!


    How could the performance have been better?

    The mix of cameo flash backs notably from the same character at differing age landmarks,and reliving the same scenario was intriguing.But clearer differences in the narrators' voices and /or pausing to let images sink in would have been helpful overall. Somehow they all sounded the same !


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Water for Elephants?


    None specifically as overall the delivery was monotonous ,lacked pace ; they failed to capture and retain interest.This was not helped by the 'old man' sounding like a 'stock' act of stereotypicality ; every word had the utmost gravitas without balance.The American accents were also difficult to sort out ; it became tiring to experience and did not stimulate enthusiasm.


    Any additional comments?

    I gather the actual written novel has been well received which makes this Audio version a let down. It's the performance which fails !

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • MRS
    Pego, Spain
    3/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Enchanting"
    What did you like most about Water for Elephants?

    The whole story was very evocative and compelling. I particularly felt drawn to this as my 3xgrandfather was a "dompteur", a tamer of wild animals with a menagerie in the late 19th century and very little is known about his day to day life as a performer (apart from what I have discovered form old newspaper cuttings), and this story suggests a lot of truth in the way people lived in a circus environment at those times.


    What other book might you compare Water for Elephants to, and why?

    This book stands alone. It is the story of an intelligent man forced into a lifestyle he has no concept of, learning with compassion for both man and beast about the harsh realities of life in this shabby world of the travelling circus. Despite the struggles he had to endure, both mentally and physically, he was able to maintain his own inbuilt moral standards and was a well rounded individual whose capacity to do right never wavered .


    Any additional comments?

    I loved this book and the performance by the narrator was exceptionally brilliant.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • 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

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