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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 (14394 )
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4.3 (6775 )
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4.5 (6696 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Katie CEDAR PARK, TX, United States 11-07-13
    Katie CEDAR PARK, TX, United States 11-07-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    46
    1
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    "wow, so bad"
    Any additional comments?

    This book is simply written. There is no depth. The dialog is lacking. The characters are shallow. I cannot imagine where there positive reviews are comming from. The reader for the younger character is almost intolerable.

    It is a nice story. I think it would be nice as a bedtime story minus the inappropriate content. Or maybe written by a different author. A children's book? Its just such a light, simple read.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13
    Jay Vancouver, BC, Canada 05-03-13 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    44
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    96
    24
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    FOLLOWING
    4
    0
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    Performance
    Story
    "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
  •  
    E. Pearson Idaho 02-11-12
    E. Pearson Idaho 02-11-12 Member Since 2008

    Occasional Thinker

    HELPFUL VOTES
    178
    ratings
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    73
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    "The Reading Makes and Saves this Book"

    There were many things to love about this book-- the narration of the old man being the greatest. The reading of these chapters was remarkable and opened up insights that I may have otherwised missed. All the narration was good, and the story itself was definitely engaging. I would have most preferred the story of the old man alone without the youth-circus-life, because while that story was certainly interesting, there were elements that just didn't work for me. The old man sections of this book provided knowledge and fresh insight about humanity, while the earlier story was somewhat predictable, and upon reflection, I find that it did little to enlarge my views, but rather tended to reinforce the stereotypes I already held about the old circus world and its characters. While I don't generally mind a little earthiness, I felt that the story was not enhanced by the intense bits of graphic sexuality. Those scenes were fairly limited, which helped, but proved to be a distraction because they didn't mesh with the style of the old man's narration, or because they didn't help to further the plot. They could have been adequately implied without limiting the story in the slightest. Overall, I'm very glad I read this, and wish I dared recommend it to many of my friends who are a bit squemish about content. I hate for them to miss out because of a few inessential details.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cristina H NYC - USA 05-29-11
    Cristina H NYC - USA 05-29-11 Member Since 2015

    Cristina

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
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    133
    9
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    Overall
    "Didn't Realize This Was Sentimental Dreck"

    I downloaded this book because it was so popular, but I didn't realize it was a super sappy love story. The storyline gets to be ridiculous and the premise is unbelievable. The female lead is completely one dimensional and I don't know why the lead character loves her, let alone likes her.

    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
    4154
    ratings
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    366
    214
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    2282
    12
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    Story
    "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
    ratings
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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
    499
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    186
    115
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    "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
    16
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    63
    16
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    0
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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
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    1
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "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
    11
    ratings
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    14
    3
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    FOLLOWING
    0
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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
  • Showing: 31-40 of 1165 results PREVIOUS1345117NEXT
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  • 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
  • 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
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