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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 (14687 )
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Performance
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  •  
    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
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    "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!

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 10-02-13
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 10-02-13 Member Since 2015

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

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    "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.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Twyla 06-19-15
    Twyla 06-19-15 Member Since 2014
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    "Yikes Not a book to listen to with Kids..."
    What disappointed you about Water for Elephants?

    All the sex stuff.... Very explicit. I put this on in the car for the kids and I to listen to. Not what I expected. The narrator was good, but wow lots of sex.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    AudioAddict 02-17-14
    AudioAddict 02-17-14

    I can find a book to love in any genre -- a beautifully written classic, an interesting mystery or sci-fi, a trashy romance. Bring it!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Behind the scenes of Benzini Bros. Circus"

    STORY (historical fiction) - Water for Elephants is an award-winning book and has been made into a popular movie, so I know I'm in the minority with my review. Parts of the book were very enjoyable, but most of the time my mind was wandering and I was looking at the time counter to see how much longer before I could start a new book. It paints what is probably a historically correct view of circus life in the Depression era -- sleeping in train cars and traveling from town to town. It is interesting to a certain point, but IMHO the story kind of just meanders from day to day with too much downtime between important events.

    The main character is Jacob, the veterinarian, and the story is told through the use of two different timelines. One timeline is Jacob present day when he is an old man in a nursing home, grumbling about the food and dreaming of his life as a young man in the circus. The second is the story of Jacob's unplanned entry into circus life and his viewpoint of what he finds there. Each timeline is read by a different narrator, so it's easy to follow as you go back and forth.

    There is the expected cast of circus characters, but the three main ones in this story are Jacob, a beautiful horse/elephant rider and her schizophrenic husband. There are some ugly exchanges between various characters, some animal abuse which is a hard to hear and a stripper who puts on a pretty bizarre show. Then there is a romance that trancends decades. You will feel afraid, angry, happy and sad. The ending is unexpected and very good.

    PERFORMANCE - Both narrators did well, but the one reading the older version did an outstanding job of conveying Jacob's various emotions - frustration, anger, love, etc., as he relived some of his memories.

    OVERALL - Some violence and foul language, but not a lot. Some animal cruelty and sexual content.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Morgan Pittsburgh, PA, United States 07-31-13
    Morgan Pittsburgh, PA, United States 07-31-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Entertaining but a bit lacking"
    What made the experience of listening to Water for Elephants the most enjoyable?

    The narration was spectacular and really sold the book. The story was made complete through the older gentleman re-telling his years on the circus. I cried within the first 30 minutes.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    I would've liked more depth in the characters and the plot. It seemed for the most part one dimensional and as much as I enjoyed the older man, the story didn't really make me root for his younger self or his relationship with Marlina.


    Which character – as performed by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones – was your favorite?

    The elderly man. He made me laugh, cry, feel angry and sad for how some treat their seniors. But that one character kept me listening.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I liked how the elderly man made it to the circus and the end result of that. I also enjoyed his friendship his bunkmate and the dog.


    Any additional comments?

    I thought the beginning was really moving and grasped my attention, but then near the end of the story there were pieces at the plot that I didn't like and thought could have been developed more. I think the book is worth listening to. It is pretty short, the narration is great, but afterwards I'm left wanting a bit more...

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rebecca Sylvan Lake, AB, Canada 07-14-13
    Rebecca Sylvan Lake, AB, Canada 07-14-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Very well rounded must have novel"
    Where does Water for Elephants rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Water for Elephants is definitely in my top 5.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    I can't possibly choose, they're all so compelling.


    Have you listened to any of David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I haven't but am looking for novels specifically narrated by them because they were absolutely exceptional.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    That would be impossible to divulge without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read the book yet. There are so many moments throughout the story that are enlightening and heartfelt.


    Any additional comments?

    Water for Elephants is a novel everyone should read. It's an insightful, beautifully written story that will leave you completely satisfied. I wouldn't be surprised if I took the time to listen to it again which is something I've only done once before.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Claire Indio, CA, United States 06-23-13
    Claire Indio, CA, United States 06-23-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Loyalty is Supreme"

    Whether human or pachyderm, loyalty is the essence of the story. Great characters from the dwarf to the hobo to the enforcer. It was heart warming, especially at the end.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alexandria New York 05-05-13
    Alexandria New York 05-05-13 Member Since 2012

    Alexandria

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Exceptional Narrators, Awful Story and Writing"

    Both narrators did an exceptional job with this book, and it was mostly because of them that I bothered finishing it. I cannot say anything bad about their narrations - some of the best I've heard. Their exceptional performances were wasted on such bad writing, however.

    The main story was simplistic, dull, and predictable. The characters were flat and completely lacked chemistry. This was especially true for Marlena, wh, as far as I could tell possessed no personality whatsoever aside from being a helpless, beautiful woman married to an evil, evil man and in need of saving. The young Jacob was likewise dull and also selfish, with very few redeeming qualities outside his bilingual abilities.

    That said, the flashes forward to the old Jacob in the nursing home were truly inspired and moving. A couple of times tears came to my eyes as I remembered my own grandfather. It was difficult to reconcile that the same author who wrote these lovely, moving, nuanced segments of an old man abandoned by his family, health failing, was also responsible for the mind-numbing drivel of the circus segments - the main plot of the story. In fact, it seemed to me that the two were so disjointed in tone, voice - everything really - that they were like two separate stories (of differing quality) thrown together.

    If you enjoy excellent narration, this book is worth checking out, but be warned - the story itself is mostly annoying, badly written drivel.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13 Member Since 2015

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

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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!

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura Markham, ON, Canada 03-21-13
    Laura Markham, ON, Canada 03-21-13 Member Since 2013
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    "AMAZING Book!"

    I can honestly say I haven't enjoyed a book so much in years. The narration was INCREDIBLE, I loved how it switched between the voices of Jacob at 23 and at 93.
    An excellent read. You won't be disappointed.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sort by:
  • 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
  • Kelly
    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
  • Annette Morris
    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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