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Water for Elephants Audiobook

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

4.4 (16658 )
5 star
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4.4 (8852 )
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4.5 (8774 )
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    PA Law 08-02-06
    PA Law 08-02-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    146
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    152
    24
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    16
    0
    Overall
    "Wonderful story, and well read"

    This somewhat sentimental story is a clever novel that evokes emotions which endure through time. The narrators are magnificent, capturing the characters so well that you frequently forget that you're listening to a book--almost like watching a play. Highly recommended.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hiroshi TokyoJapan 02-11-10
    Hiroshi TokyoJapan 02-11-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    7
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Romantic, engaging"

    I like the stories about animals and I was caught by the events from the beginning

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Provo, UT, USA 03-21-08
    Carol Provo, UT, USA 03-21-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    29
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    4
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Excellent but Explicit"

    Overall, I enjoyed this audio book very much. The writing style was rich, the story line interesting. The narrators were excellent and turned the book into a drama. It was like listening to an old time radio show. My objection is this: for those of us concerned with explicit sex in our reading material, there should be some kind of a warning. Although this book only had two raunchy scenes, this was enough to cause me to only give the book 4 stars instead of 5.

    12 of 18 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 2016

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

    HELPFUL VOTES
    5110
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1456
    466
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1276
    9
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "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 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judy Evansville, IN, United States 10-26-11
    Judy Evansville, IN, United States 10-26-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    100
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    384
    100
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    7
    17
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Hate it"

    I don't understand why this book is a top seller. Very predictable! I had to stop listening and make myself finish it a few days later because it used a point. I like a book to make me feel good at the end and this did not! who wants to read about animal cruelty!

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Los Angeles, CA, United States 02-12-11
    David Los Angeles, CA, United States 02-12-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "A (hopefully!) helpful review"

    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.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Helen Sydney, Australia 07-18-13
    Helen Sydney, Australia 07-18-13

    Composer, reader, hommus eater

    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    2
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    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Listen, it's good but not great"

    This is beautifully performed, and it's a mammoth work so the two performers did excellently to keep pace.
    However: the book itself has some holes in it. Firstly, it gets monotonous. It's sort of two toned the whole way - even in the high action part, the circus story part, it has this sort of one-dimensional 'main character does something naughty- lots of swearing occurs - bad stuff happens' cycle which leaves you waiting for something to happen - and when the climax of action does happen, you're left feeling a bit hollow because it just feels very similar to everything that's happened before.
    Also, the women aren't written particularly well, which is kind of odd coming from a female author (sexism, much Helen? Oh dear.) No really, in all honesty I wanted the lady characters to have bit more nous than this sort of flimsy damsel in distress feel that might be typical of an early 20th century pulp novel but really has no place in 21st century dramatic realist literature.
    There are some beautifully profound moments by the old guy though, which I found really touching, and thought provoking too.
    But seriously Gruen, step up your women characters!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 04-14-11
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 04-14-11 Member Since 2010

    Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    2818
    ratings
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    285
    223
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    577
    2
    Overall
    "How is this going to be a movie?"

    Several reviewers have mentioned a comparison of this story to Sophie's Choice, and the connection is obvious in the triangular relationship of the 3 main characters. But don't assume that this comparison implies the same quality of story and character development as the previous (far superior) work. Sara Gruen has not created characters that live and breathe. In fact, Marlena barely even speaks - her story (such as it is) is summarized for her by Jacob. She wimpers, she blushes, she covers her mouth with her hand, and she crosses her legs and bounces her foot up and down. I found it odd that a female author could not find a way to give life or even voice to any of the female characters, while working so hard to describe every carnal detail of the men. Who was she trying to impress? The elephant didn't make an appearance until the second half of the story, and had a surprisingly small roll. While the "Old Jacob" portion of the story was somewhat touching, I found that it slowed down what little momentum the circus story had. I did find the behind the scenes of a circus interesting, but from an outsider's point of view. The lack of life of the characters never really let me in. Knowing that the movie is coming out soon and that Reese Witherspoon is playing the lead, I wonder what she has to draw from to create a memorable performance - she certainly hasn't got much to go on from the book.

    9 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08
    Robin Richmond, VA, USA 07-07-08 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    40
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    23
    8
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "A pleasure to listen..."

    I loved having two readers - one for the old Jacob and one for the young one. I don't want to say why I liked this book so much because that would give away the ending. Just give it a listen - you won't regret it. It was a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end. I am still smiling - I love the old Jacob!

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Airmont, NY, USA 04-13-08
    Michael Airmont, NY, USA 04-13-08 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    13
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    136
    14
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Very Enjoyable!"

    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.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful
Sort by:
  • 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
  • M. Bashford
    Brighton
    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
  • Ms. Laura Mercier
    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
  • John
    Berkhamsted, United Kingdom
    6/16/11
    Overall
    "A great story told by a great story teller"

    It's not a great work of literature but it is a damn good story. This is one of the few books I've listened to where the narrator has really made the book come to life. Cliched or classic, you decide. The ending is not what you think, but in hindsight you wonder how could it be any different. Enjoy!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Meena
    London, United Kingdom
    6/13/11
    Overall
    "Excellent"

    This was an excellent listen. Very enjoyable, not bored at all. Would recommend to just about everyone.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Georgina
    Horsham, United Kingdom
    6/10/11
    Overall
    "Great listen"

    I really did not want this book to end. I savoured every moment. It oozed images, smells and noise as it journeyed with the circus and the compelling characters. It's going to be difficult to find another book to rival it.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Anthony
    ambleside, United Kingdom
    6/10/11
    Overall
    "brilliant"

    This is a book you must listen to. Absolutely stunning piece of work. Never in a book have I felt so much as though I was there, the smells, the noises. Perfection.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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