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
"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)
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!
Knowledge is knowing the way. Wisdom is looking for an alternative, more interesting road to get there. Audiobooks are that road.
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!
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.
I like unabridged novels. When I first joined Audible, many were abridged. That has changed. Non-fiction, politics, bios are favorites
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.
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.
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.
Addicted to Audible!
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!
I love espionage, legal, and detective thrillers but listen to most genres. Very frequent reviews. No plot spoilers! Please excuse my typos!
When I first read Water for Elephants a decade ago it struck me as a nice but too syrupy sweet story good for 3 or 3.5 stars. Then I listened to the audiobook and found it was a solid 4+ star novel. The difference is the wonderful first person narration. As the 90 or 93 year old Jacob the narration by John Randolph Jones may be the best I have ever heard. David LeDoux narrates the 20 something Jacob and while not as good it deserves 4 stars. My only complaint about LeDoux is that he tends to over perform at times.
Composer, reader, hommus eater
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!
"Unusual love story"
The description of circus life before it was politically incorrect to have animals at the circus.
The main character as an old man.
I was disturbed at the cruelty to some of the performers and staff as well as the animals.
A love story with a difference.
It has potential for human interest.
Sorry but no!
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 !
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.
I gather the actual written novel has been well received which makes this Audio version a let down. It's the performance which fails !
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.
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 .
I loved this book and the performance by the narrator was exceptionally brilliant.
"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.
"Worth a listen"
I don't know, I've never read the print version but having said that I liked listening to it.
Rosie the elephant was my favourite character. She endured so much and got her own back in the end.
Walter the midget
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.
Don't read this book if you're feeling particularly down about anything ... It will make you feel worse.
"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.
"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
"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.
"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.
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.
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