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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 (17246 )
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4.4 (9391 )
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4.6 (9312 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Sandy Sheboygan, WI, USA 02-19-09
    Sandy Sheboygan, WI, USA 02-19-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
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    3
    1
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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
  •  
    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
    1468
    ratings
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    339
    104
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    FOLLOWING
    166
    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
  •  
    Richard Pembroke Pines, FL, United States 09-12-06
    Richard Pembroke Pines, FL, United States 09-12-06 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A diamond"

    I am another that doesn't like circuses and did not think I would like this book. I was certainly wrong as this is an inciteful story, well read by both narrators. I had trouble stopping listening and nearly went through the 12 hours non-stop. The perspective of the 23 and 90 or 93 year old man was brilliant. The author nailed this one and I could easily put myself in the old mans place. I would recommend this book to anyone that wants an interesting story, well told.

    1 of 1 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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    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 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hiroshi TokyoJapan 02-11-10
    Hiroshi TokyoJapan 02-11-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
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    7
    2
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    "Romantic, engaging"

    I like the stories about animals and I was caught by the events from the beginning

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Provo, UT, USA 03-21-08
    Carol Provo, UT, USA 03-21-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    30
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    6
    4
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    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 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Los Angeles, CA, United States 02-12-11
    David Los Angeles, CA, United States 02-12-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
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    1
    1
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    "A (hopefully!) helpful review"

    I've been reading the other reviews, and it's pretty amazing how polarizing this book is. People either love, love, LOVE it, or it's a worthless piece of claptrap. Maybe that's the price of success - people feel they need to have a strong opinion.

    Well, here's my level-headed review: The two narrators were stellar. Especially the older man. Among the best that you'll find in the audio-book world, and that's a nice thing.

    The story was... above average. A bit odd in tone, to tell you the truth. The parts with "Old Jacob" were great. Touching. Illuminating. I'd never felt that close to a 90 year-old man. The author really dug into his soul and mined some lovely truths.

    The rest of the story is about "Young Jacob", how he leaves home, joins up with a circus, meets a lovely (and married) girl, etc. At times it was a blast. At others, the tone felt weird. For example: The story would be moving along very sweetly, and even simply, and then all of a sudden we'd get an extremely graphic description of a dwarf "pleasuring himself". We're talking colors, tightness of grip, and so forth...!

    Anyway, I have no moral problem with this. It's literature. Wonderful. But it's just one example of how it seemed like the author couldn't decide on a consistent tone. Is the book a sweet and simple tale of joining the circus or a gritty, hyper-real, sexual drama?

    The love story between Jacob and Marlena was okay. Just okay. I mean, she's got an unkind, bi-polarish husband who she doesn't like. She says things like "He's my husband!", and Jacob says things like "But he HIT you!" And so forth. It's a lot more beautifully nuanced than that, but do you see what I mean? It's not exactly unmined territory. And there are no surprising turns with their relationship. It unfolds as you'd expect.

    One last thing: For a period piece, the dialogue sounded curiously modern. There were some phrases that made me say "What YEAR is this?"

    I hope this review has helped.

    6 of 10 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
    1977
    ratings
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    384
    217
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    472
    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!

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Helen Sydney, Australia 07-18-13
    Helen Sydney, Australia 07-18-13

    Composer, reader, hommus eater

    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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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!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    41
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    26
    10
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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 6 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 Mills
    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
  • holly bird
    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
  • Madgey
    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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