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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 (13684 )
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4.3 (6153 )
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4.5 (6073 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Russell Keswick, ON, Canada 06-03-11
    Russell Keswick, ON, Canada 06-03-11 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    379
    ratings
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    41
    37
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    Overall
    "Winning Combination"

    Great story, amazing narration by two pros and a different type of story then I usually encounter all adds up to a winning combination.

    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
    246
    ratings
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    57
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    Performance
    Story
    "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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    Overall
    "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
  •  
    KC 01-28-10
    KC 01-28-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
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    5
    3
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    Overall
    "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
  •  
    Patti Louisville, CO, USA 11-21-09
    Patti Louisville, CO, USA 11-21-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    10
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    3
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    "How Delightful!"

    What a pleasant surprise. As a lover of historical fiction, I really enjoyed this story set mostly in Depression-era America about, of all things, a young verterinarian who joins a circus. The two narrators, the young and elderly version of the main character, add depth to an already-captivating story. The book is also a tale of life and adventure on the American railroad. This was the era that my parents grew up in and I could hear my father in the pitch-perfect voice of the older Jacob.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margo 10-03-09
    Margo 10-03-09 Member Since 2002

    Tucked away in the beautiful mountains of New Mexico.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    198
    ratings
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    185
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    12
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    Overall
    "An Enjoyable Book"

    I enjoyed listening to this book. There were some twists and turns, but for the most part it was just a well told story.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C.M. 09-11-09
    C.M. 09-11-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Absolutely wonderful"

    As a video biographer, I talk to people in their 70's and 80's and hear all their wisdom. And see how we (the younger) all ignore it - in general. This book had the wonderful combination of the young account of what was going on "now" and the 90/93 year old man looking back with hindsight, nostalgia, and resignation. The narration was exquisite. A gem.

    2 of 2 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
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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 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
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    3
    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
    11
    ratings
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    "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: 41-50 of 1096 results PREVIOUS1456110NEXT
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  • 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
  • Jess
    saffron walden, United Kingdom
    5/13/11
    Overall
    "Worth every penny!"

    Like all the previous reviews there is nothing I did not like about this title. The narration was fabulous and I loved the story, even doing my daughters washing up turn so that I could listen to it! I found myself totally lost in the story and characters and I agree that if you love 'The Help' you will love this too.Highly recommended.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Natalie
    MorpethUnited Kingdom
    4/21/11
    Overall
    "wonderful"

    I found this story absolutely enthralling. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good listen.
    The older character was particularly astute and his comments on growing old, loss of dignity and focus on life are particularly moving.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Jonathan
    Southsea, Hampshire, United Kingdom
    3/25/11
    Overall
    "Brilliant story - v. well read - like being there!"

    I bought this off the back of initial reviewer's description and was not once disappointed. An amazing story and very clever/slick switching between main character when he was a young man in the circus and when he was an old man in a retirement home, and back and forth throughout. A very clever prologue (which you only realise fully later) - it grips you from the start. I found myself wanting to keep getting back to the book to see what happened next, so never a dull moment. The reading of this book was excellent, almost like you were there with the characters, and every emotion was instantly shared. I highly recommend this book, even if the initial subject puts you off - I wasn't sure before I started but I am now very glad I took the plunge. 5 stars well deserved!

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Marilyn
    Peacehaven, East Susse3x, United Kingdom
    7/11/10
    Overall
    "A Journey with the circus"

    An Amazing journey across America by train with the circus. I felt I was there sharing the excitement, adventures, but tough life they led. The main character is now in his nineties and it tells also of his life in a nursing home and how he is coping with old age. Wonderful journey narrated so well.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • The Book Squirrel
    uk
    2/7/09
    Overall
    "Best book read in 2008"

    This turned out to be one of my favourite books for 2008. This story flowed so well and you get a real view of what life was like not only in a circus but what it was like to have a job in the depression.

    The story was brilliantly written with the narator not only living in the present but his memories of his earlier life. As a Care Assistant myself I related to how he felt in his nursing home and having his independance taken away from him bit by bit.

    Highly recommended!

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Laura
    London, United Kingdom
    11/5/08
    Overall
    "Fantastic"

    This is a really wonderful story - beautifully written and read. I know I'll come back to this one again and again, it's a real gem.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 41-50 of 55 results PREVIOUS1456NEXT

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