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)
A topic I never thought that I would enjoy so much. A world that is so far away it's almost alien. My wife read this and raved about it for weeks. So, I (hesitantly) downloaded it. Wow, what a great decision. Highly recommend.
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
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!
I looked into this title many times before finally giving in and purchasing it. With my commute, it served as a nice mix between thought-provoking and occasionally mindless. The narrators are both good, but the older Jacob is FANTASTIC. I found myself looking forward to the next chapter just so I could get back to his devastatingly realistic portrayal of an old man stuck between comforting reminiscence and disparaging experiences in the now.
The story itself was entertaining and sometimes had some depth to it that left me pondering, but it was not a book that I would recommend to someone looking for any kind of a head-scratcher. The look into old-timey circus life was apparently informed by Gruen's research, which lent it much credibility as I was listening, but the characters themselves were mostly average in their ability to maintain my interest. I was drawn into the characters of August, Marlena, and Walter, but not nearly as much into characters such as Uncle Al, Camel, and even the young Jacob, who served as the protagoinist but not with a great deal of depth. The older Jacob, however, had a great deal of depth and nuance, which is why I mentioned before my tendency to look forward to his chapters.
I recommend this book, but know a couple things. It's more of a romance story than "literature", and the ending is one that you will likely either love or hate. For me, a bad ending ruins a book. This ending, well, I appreciated it on some levels and hated it on others. That's all I'm willing to say.
Like most folks I bought this audio book with high expectations. I tried and tried but could not finish listening. It kept feeling like an utter waste of my time. The readers both do a good job but Gruen's writing is too predictable, cliched, and often simply doesn't ring true. Maybe this is what bestseller fiction is about but I certainly would not credit this book with any literary merit.
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!
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.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
The story begins in the great depression with 23 year old Jacob going to veterinary school, following in his father's footsteps. It goes back and forth between Jacob as an old man and Jacob at 23 . . . the narration is excellent. I connected with the story on many levels, most of all falling in love with the 93 year old Jacob, who is left in a nursing home, with a perfectly good mind, to pass the days, lonely and reliving the past, and being treated like a piece of the furniture. Bittersweet, unusual, an audio book not to be missed.
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.
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.
The language was very inappropriate.
They did a great job with what they had to work with. It was the writing that was bad.
The movie was good so I know the story was good:) just had unnecissary profanity that made it painful to listen to.
Know its rated R before purchasing it.
Great story, amazing narration by two pros and a different type of story then I usually encounter all adds up to a winning combination.
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..
"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.
"a lovely read"
An excellent book which is interesting and compassionate but unfortunately the ending seemed rather rushed.
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.
"A great listern"
A wonderful story which fired my imaginating made even better by first class readers. Fantastic
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
"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
"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.
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.
"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
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