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Water for Elephants Audiobook

Water for Elephants

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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 (17234 )
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4.4 (9379 )
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4.6 (9300 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Cristina H NYC - USA 05-29-11
    Cristina H NYC - USA 05-29-11 Member Since 2016

    Cristina

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    176
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
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    1
    Overall
    "Didn't Realize This Was Sentimental Dreck"

    I downloaded this book because it was so popular, but I didn't realize it was a super sappy love story. The storyline gets to be ridiculous and the premise is unbelievable. The female lead is completely one dimensional and I don't know why the lead character loves her, let alone likes her.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kelli Spencer, IA, United States 03-15-11
    Kelli Spencer, IA, United States 03-15-11 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    21
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "I guess I expected too much."

    While I didn't actively dislike this audio book, I wasn't really enchanted with it and expected much more because of the high ranking in audible favorites.
    I did like certain story lines, like the Walter/Jacob relationship the and the Rosemary/Jacob (older Jacob) story line that was so realistic, other lines were touched on, like the Elephant and man connection or the horse and woman connection, but were left fairly sketchy and under developed.
    I also felt that some of the descriptions, especially of the uncomfortably sexy type were overly graphic and didn't add much to my understanding of the characters and the story line. I even found myself fast forwarding through those spots.
    I could easily imagine some of the scenes as if they were happening on a movie screen due to the abundance of incidental details and descriptive captures of the characters' movements and mannerisms.
    So I won't say that it is a waste of time, but just that it is fairly easy and unchallenging and I prefer something possibly a little bit more "meaty" and interesting. I liked the ending.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M.W. 10-03-09
    M.W. 10-03-09 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    246
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    389
    205
    FOLLOWERS
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    15
    19
    Overall
    "An Enjoyable Book"

    I enjoyed listening to this book. There were some twists and turns, but for the most part it was just a well told story.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Valerie Charlotte, NC, USA 10-03-09
    Valerie Charlotte, NC, USA 10-03-09 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    55
    6
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    "You Must Get This Book!"

    Simply wonderful. Fantastic from beginning to end.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sara walkersville, md, United States 08-23-08
    Sara walkersville, md, United States 08-23-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    9
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    113
    11
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    1
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    Overall
    "A story about love, life, elephants, and history."

    This was a great book about humanity's affect on humanity, animals, and history. I highly recommend this little book to anyone who ever wanted to join the circus.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hui-Chang 07-15-08
    Hui-Chang 07-15-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    73
    2
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    Overall
    "Moving"

    I really enjoyed this book, not so much for the main story about Jacob's life in the circus, but for the very moving account of his life as an old man in a nursing home. Perhaps that's because the narrator who plays 90- or 93-year-old Jacob is absolutely marvellous. I was moved to tears at several points by his excellent acting/reading. Well worth picking up!

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kdeems Alaska 06-05-08
    Kdeems Alaska 06-05-08 Listener Since 2006

    Alaska Reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
    30
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    24
    2
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    0
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    Overall
    "Excellent!"

    This was the best narrated audio book I've heard. It was narrated by two people who played different ages of the main character's life. Well done!

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura 04-09-08
    Laura 04-09-08 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    114
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    365
    27
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    5
    3
    Overall
    "Best Story On Earth"

    From the characters to the vivid descriptions to the wide range of emotions, this book had me mesmerized. The descriptions are powerful and moving. You see each of the different character perspectives of the so clearly, some of your own perceptions may change. You may even learn a few things along the way as I did. It's no wonder this audiobook was chosen as the Best of 2006.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margaret Libertyville, IL, USA 04-05-08
    Margaret Libertyville, IL, USA 04-05-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    24
    4
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    0
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    Overall
    "Loved this story"

    The story was beautiful written and extremely engaging, it was a great listen and really enjoyed the voices of the two readers.

    2 of 3 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
    3225
    ratings
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    304
    240
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    618
    4
    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 15 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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