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 focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
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.
I've been reading the other reviews, and it's pretty amazing how polarizing this book is. People either love, love, LOVE it, or it's a worthless piece of claptrap. Maybe that's the price of success - people feel they need to have a strong opinion.
Well, here's my level-headed review: The two narrators were stellar. Especially the older man. Among the best that you'll find in the audio-book world, and that's a nice thing.
The story was... above average. A bit odd in tone, to tell you the truth. The parts with "Old Jacob" were great. Touching. Illuminating. I'd never felt that close to a 90 year-old man. The author really dug into his soul and mined some lovely truths.
The rest of the story is about "Young Jacob", how he leaves home, joins up with a circus, meets a lovely (and married) girl, etc. At times it was a blast. At others, the tone felt weird. For example: The story would be moving along very sweetly, and even simply, and then all of a sudden we'd get an extremely graphic description of a dwarf "pleasuring himself". We're talking colors, tightness of grip, and so forth...!
Anyway, I have no moral problem with this. It's literature. Wonderful. But it's just one example of how it seemed like the author couldn't decide on a consistent tone. Is the book a sweet and simple tale of joining the circus or a gritty, hyper-real, sexual drama?
The love story between Jacob and Marlena was okay. Just okay. I mean, she's got an unkind, bi-polarish husband who she doesn't like. She says things like "He's my husband!", and Jacob says things like "But he HIT you!" And so forth. It's a lot more beautifully nuanced than that, but do you see what I mean? It's not exactly unmined territory. And there are no surprising turns with their relationship. It unfolds as you'd expect.
One last thing: For a period piece, the dialogue sounded curiously modern. There were some phrases that made me say "What YEAR is this?"
I hope this review has helped.
This has got the be the best audiobook I've ever heard! Please listen! you won't regret it for one second. I have learned a new respect for my elders (not that I had a problem before). This was beautifully written and beautifully performed. I did not want it to end!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Water for Elephants is definitely in my top 5.
I can't possibly choose, they're all so compelling.
I haven't but am looking for novels specifically narrated by them because they were absolutely exceptional.
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.
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.
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.
"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
"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.
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.
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