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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

4.3 (13106 )
5 star
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4.3 (5618 )
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4.5 (5552 )
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4 star
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3 star
 (417)
2 star
 (91)
1 star
 (77)
Performance
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  •  
    Patti Chittenango, NY, United States 01-31-08
    Patti Chittenango, NY, United States 01-31-08 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    543
    ratings
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    490
    273
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    "One of My All Time Favorites!"

    Initially drawn by the mention of my hometown, this book drew me in quick! I loved the use of the older voice and the younger voice. It truly added dramatic appeal.

    As a nurse, I was shamed by a realistic portrayal of nursing home life. As an animal lover, I was amused and enthralled by circus stories. As a woman, I was thrilled with the romance and chivalry. I did not want to stop listening.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathryn Tazewell, VA, United States 09-10-07
    Kathryn Tazewell, VA, United States 09-10-07

    I've been an avid, constant reader since I learned to read at age 5. I ALWAYS have a book going while quilting, cross-stitching, or painting

    HELPFUL VOTES
    55
    ratings
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    67
    12
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    3
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    Overall
    "I Never Dreamed I Would Love This Book..."

    But not only did I love it, I have told everyone I know that they simply MUST read it. The narration is excellent, which is always wonderful when that happens. But the story itself is gripping. The writing is so descriptive that you can smell the roasting peanuts, taste the grit in the dusty air, and feel the ropes slide in your hand.

    While yes, it is a circus story, it is so much more. It is a life lived-- reflected upon from the beginning by Jacob who is now 90 (or is it 93? He can't remember) years old and in a dreaded nursing home. It is a story about nursing home care, circus life, the Depression, mental illness, alcoholism, love, and trains.

    Because I am a strict animal lover who cannot tolerate abuse in books, I want to warn others. There is some very limited abuse in the book, but trust me-- it doesn't last long, and it is WELL worth it when you get to the ending. EXCELLENT ending!! Brava to the author!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandra Philomath, OR, United States 08-05-06
    Sandra Philomath, OR, United States 08-05-06 Member Since 2002

    I like unabridged novels. When I first joined Audible, many were abridged. That has changed. Non-fiction, politics, bios are favorites

    HELPFUL VOTES
    111
    ratings
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    53
    28
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    4
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    "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 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert GOLDENS BRIDGE, NEW YORK, United States 07-31-10
    Robert GOLDENS BRIDGE, NEW YORK, United States 07-31-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    25
    ratings
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    22
    12
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    2
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    Overall
    "Channeling Franklin W. Dixon"

    Imagine, for a moment that the author of the Hardy Boys chose another pen name and wrote a book about a young man who joins the circus and finds true love. Although I did manage to finish the book (I wouldn't make that choice again), I am surprised by the high ratings this title has received. Be warned; I'm hanging the red lantern on this circus train. The protagonist does everything but say 'aw shucks'. He is practically forced into sex by women who unzip him, thus escaping all responsibility. And the writing includes such gems as "solid as an oblisk; viscous as water". Viscous as water? Given the ratings, there must be a good audience for this kind of book.... but I'm not it.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    Chris Blackheath, Australia 05-17-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    50
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    59
    18
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    "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.

    15 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff Millville , NJ, USA 06-08-06
    Jeff Millville , NJ, USA 06-08-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    34
    ratings
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    13
    2
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    0
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    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 39 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    39
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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
  •  
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13 Member Since 2012

    So much to learn, and so little time to sit down and read. Thanks Audible.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "A Really Great Story"

    I was really drawn into this story. The author did a great job of developing the characters. I felt really endeared to the main character, and cheered for his success at every turn. In the same way I despised the "villains". Because of my schedule I had to listen to this over a few days. Each night I went to bed thinking about the story, and woke up eager to hop in the car and turn it back on.

    I love thrillers, but after a while the stories all start overlapping in my mind, and it's hard to find something fresh without getting into sci-fi. This book delivers a great story unlike anything else I've heard. It also gave me a little insight into an era of our country's history. I also like it when an author doesn't leave all kinds of loose ends unresolved, and this book was very well written in that regard. I highly recommend it!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Edmonton, AB, Canada 04-12-11
    David Edmonton, AB, Canada 04-12-11 Member Since 2007

    I am an entertainer...so I spend a lot of time on the road. I take my audio seriously. I appreciate great writing and outstanding narration.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Outstanding Story...Outstanding Narrators!"

    Want to go back in time to a traveling circus?

    You can and will with this riveting story -- so well written you'll want to listen to it again.

    The story is really REALLY good -- but the narrators are even better...words and characters come to life with their narration. The result? An instant Audible classic.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kelli Spencer, IA, United States 03-15-11
    Kelli Spencer, IA, United States 03-15-11 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
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    21
    5
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    0
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    "I guess I expected too much."

    While I didn't actively dislike this audio book, I wasn't really enchanted with it and expected much more because of the high ranking in audible favorites.
    I did like certain story lines, like the Walter/Jacob relationship the and the Rosemary/Jacob (older Jacob) story line that was so realistic, other lines were touched on, like the Elephant and man connection or the horse and woman connection, but were left fairly sketchy and under developed.
    I also felt that some of the descriptions, especially of the uncomfortably sexy type were overly graphic and didn't add much to my understanding of the characters and the story line. I even found myself fast forwarding through those spots.
    I could easily imagine some of the scenes as if they were happening on a movie screen due to the abundance of incidental details and descriptive captures of the characters' movements and mannerisms.
    So I won't say that it is a waste of time, but just that it is fairly easy and unchallenging and I prefer something possibly a little bit more "meaty" and interesting. I liked the ending.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 31-40 of 1077 results PREVIOUS1345108NEXT
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  • 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
  • john
    middlesbrough, United Kingdom
    1/16/13
    Overall
    "a lovely read"

    An excellent book which is interesting and compassionate but unfortunately the ending seemed rather rushed.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • K
    Bristol, United Kingdom
    12/29/12
    Overall
    "Suprisingly good"

    I must admit, I only got this book as it was on offer and I knew they'd made a film from it, however, I was pleasantly surprised. The characters are likeable and you begin with a genuine interest to see what happens to them. And they are so utterly engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned.

    The writing is so seamless that the story sweeps you along with the tale, and there is a fantastic feeling when the circus comes to town.

    Slushy and romantic? not so much, just a great adventure story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Tim
    United Kingdom
    12/26/12
    Overall
    "A great listern"

    A wonderful story which fired my imaginating made even better by first class readers. Fantastic

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Valerie
    Canterbury, United Kingdom
    11/23/12
    Overall
    "Wonderful book"

    Poignant and tender and full of insights into life's little and unthinking cruelties as well as the major, and to me at least, unknown cruelties of the depression era. It made me laugh and cry and both the writer and narrator did an excellent job of bringing both the old and young men to life, but it is the old man who will linger longest in my memory, I urge you to buy it there cannot be many folk who will not find their lives enriched by spending time with Jacob

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Michele
    Cranleigh, United Kingdom
    4/29/12
    Overall
    "Must listen, junk the film and listen to this!"

    The most lovely reading of this incredible book. Such perfect choice of readers, John Randolph Jones is incredible as the 90-93 year old Jacob. I am so pleased I heard this before I saw the film (which was dreadful). Please do yourself a favour and buy this audio book

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • fiona
    KARRINYUP, Australia
    4/14/12
    Overall
    "Welcome to the circus..."

    Loved the two narrators, wish more books would employ this technique. Great story, interesting characters, unusual setting. Recommend reading, I know the book was a sellout last Mothers Day in Australia.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Maren
    Cheadle, Stockport, United Kingdom
    10/27/11
    Overall
    "Great Narrator(s)"

    This book is so wonderfully read, its a joy! The story in my own personal opinion still a bit weak (therfore only 4-stars), but listeing to the well performed interpretation makes this book more than only recommendable. Get and listen to audiobook.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Ann
    Haverfordwest, United Kingdom
    6/5/11
    Overall
    "Water for Elephants"

    A real 5 star book All emotions-- sad, happy, suspense, drama, love, hate,. danger-- I could go on !! and a twist in the very last pages The naration of the young and old Jacob excellent

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 31-40 of 51 results PREVIOUS13456NEXT

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