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.
"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.
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.
"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.........
"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.
Unusual subject and not one I would normally choose. It made me laugh and cry. Brilliant. Do read it
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
"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 !!
"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.
"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.
"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.
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