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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 (13827 )
5 star
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4.3 (6282 )
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4.5 (6201 )
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 10-02-13
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 10-02-13 Member Since 2014

    I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3544
    ratings
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    407
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    9
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    Story
    "Solidly Good, Not Great"

    This is a fine book, with a pleasant story and some nice characters. I particularly liked the ending and the narration was superior without being perfect. The settings for the story were mildly interesting and It was a very easy listen. Given the many great reviews I hoped for a wonderful and magical listen. This it was not. It was a nice modern novel, but for me that was it. The characters sometimes verged on almost becoming really interesting but then the scene ended, they never got me to laugh or cry, or even care very much.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    43
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    24
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    4
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    "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
  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 04-15-11
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 04-15-11 Member Since 2015

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

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3899
    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 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KC 01-28-10
    KC 01-28-10 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    5
    3
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    "Solid story bolstered by excellent narration"

    This is definitely one of the cases where the audiobook format greatly helped in engaging the reader into the story.

    I tried reading the paperback once. Put it down after the first chapter. Didn't really grab me that time.

    I gave the story another chance after it was recommended by one of the podcasts I listen to. I figured that since I was going to get a free audiobook via the podcast promotion, it wouldn't hurt to try their recommendation. Was not disappointed at all.

    Obviously I managed to get past the first chapter this time. Both narrators did an excellent job in portraying the old and young versions of the protagonist and helped contrast and distinguish their differences in character. Without it, I would have missed out on a great adventure set in Prohibition America involving the enigmatic institution that is the Circus.

    If I were to gripe, it would just be that the female characters were limited in their emotional range/depth because the narrators are male. Otherwise it is an excellent audiobook production.

    Recommended for people who like a good love story/adventure... and of course, elephants. ;)

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marius Irene, South Africa 08-19-09
    Marius Irene, South Africa 08-19-09 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pam Castletown, Australia 02-19-09
    Pam Castletown, Australia 02-19-09 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Absorbing"

    I listenned to this book and was loathed to turn if off; it was so absorbing. I was hooked right from the very beginning. Jacob at 90(93) gave me new insight to how the elderly see themselves and the world and made me sad to think of how we treat them. Sara Gruen has to be commended on her sesitivity.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    P. Thompson Lewisburg, PA 09-13-08
    P. Thompson Lewisburg, PA 09-13-08 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    1
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    "Endearing......."

    This present-past contrasted story-telling style book makes it difficult to understand the story line for the first 1/4 of the book. As long as you can hang on until the story begins to gel, you will not want to turn it off until it is over. I only listen to my audio books in the car and for the last half of the book, I found myself sitting in my car in the driveway just so I could hear what was going to happen next. Great ending!!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bronwyn ErindaleAustralia 08-28-08
    Bronwyn ErindaleAustralia 08-28-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Overall
    "Water for Elephants"

    I loved this from the moment I put it into the player. The narrator is excellent; conveys emotion and is easy to listen too. I loved the story although at times it is a little sad and traumatic. Fantastic, bravo. I can't wait for Sara Gruen to write another.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sara walkersville, md, United States 08-23-08
    Sara walkersville, md, United States 08-23-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A story about love, life, elephants, and history."

    This was a great book about humanity's affect on humanity, animals, and history. I highly recommend this little book to anyone who ever wanted to join the circus.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hui-Chang 07-15-08
    Hui-Chang 07-15-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
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    2
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    Overall
    "Moving"

    I really enjoyed this book, not so much for the main story about Jacob's life in the circus, but for the very moving account of his life as an old man in a nursing home. Perhaps that's because the narrator who plays 90- or 93-year-old Jacob is absolutely marvellous. I was moved to tears at several points by his excellent acting/reading. Well worth picking up!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 31-40 of 1103 results PREVIOUS1345111NEXT
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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
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