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Water for Elephants | [Sara Gruen]

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

4.3 (13669 )
5 star
 (7613)
4 star
 (3999)
3 star
 (1380)
2 star
 (394)
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 (283)
Overall
4.3 (6137 )
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Story
4.5 (6057 )
5 star
 (3891)
4 star
 (1530)
3 star
 (449)
2 star
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1 star
 (87)
Performance
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  •  
    Sara walkersville, md, United States 08-23-08
    Sara walkersville, md, United States 08-23-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    113
    11
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    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 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Hui-Chang 07-15-08
    Hui-Chang 07-15-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    73
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    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 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura 04-09-08
    Laura 04-09-08 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    96
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    332
    23
    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 2 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
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    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 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda Phoenix, AZ, United States 04-01-08
    Linda Phoenix, AZ, United States 04-01-08 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    13
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "A Must Read"

    From my first listen, I knew I did not want this book to end. A wonderfully written, poignant tale of the life of a kind, gentle, man forced into situations one can only imagine. Today, I finished "Water for Elephants" and I feel bereft that I can not continue. I can't wait to discuss this book at my book club.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mike Lafayette, CA, USA 11-21-06
    Mike Lafayette, CA, USA 11-21-06 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
    28
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    78
    17
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "BEAUTIFUL!"

    This was just a wonderful, beautiful adventure and story. At first I wasn't so sure I liked the "older" voice, and where it was going. But after I settled in, it was a natural transition.

    The story is unlike and other I've read. Adventure, heartbreak, sorrow, and personal growth. I feel like I've traveled with the circus, and lived the life of a roadie. I buzzed through the book in no time, and was disapointed when it was over.

    Don't miss out on this, as it'll appeal to most everyone. The ending is especially great. Just a fantastic 60 minutes!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jesse 08-08-06
    Jesse 08-08-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
    235
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    127
    61
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    9
    0
    Overall
    "THE BEST....."

    Unbelievably captivating. A life , a story, an adventure told and narrated in such a seamless manner that I was there. Step into this world and stay because you want to be there. Don't analize it. Just do it and finish with a satisied smile.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Johnathan Austin, TX, USA 03-07-10
    Johnathan Austin, TX, USA 03-07-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    6
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "3.51 stars rounds up to 4"

    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.
    .

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrea Providence, RI, United States 06-06-08
    Andrea Providence, RI, United States 06-06-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    16
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    49
    12
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    2
    1
    Overall
    "Disappointing"

    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.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K 03-18-07
    K 03-18-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
    72
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    35
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Love/Hate Relationship"

    I had a love/hate feeling for this book. I loved the character in his old age and loved many of the characters in the book. It makes you think about how you treat others, class systems, and how easily you can judge others. What I didn't like about it was that there were at least three or four fairly explicit scenes which not only are they not romantic they are the kind you prefer not to think about. It would have been much better, in my opinion, if they had not put those uncomfortable scenes in. Maybe men would feel differently, I don't know, but as a woman I found them way over the top and offensive. It ruins the story that is truly a good story minus those scenes.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 51-60 of 1096 results PREVIOUS1567110NEXT
Sort by:
  • Suzannah
    Nottingham, United Kingdom
    8/16/11
    Overall
    "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.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Fran
    LONDON, United Kingdom
    8/30/11
    Overall
    "wonderful!"

    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.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • A User
    7/5/11
    Overall
    "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.........

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Paul
    Swindon, United Kingdom
    11/15/11
    Overall
    "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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • w
    east horsley, United Kingdom
    11/7/11
    Overall
    "loved it"

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

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Claire
    Yate, United Kingdom
    10/30/11
    Overall
    "Absorbing"

    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

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • joanna
    Bingham, United Kingdom
    10/2/11
    Overall
    "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 !!

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs
    Twickenham, United Kingdom
    6/30/11
    Overall
    "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.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Annie
    Derby
    10/22/10
    Overall
    "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.

    15 of 17 people found this review helpful
  • Madge
    Abergavenny, United Kingdom
    7/18/11
    Overall
    "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.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 55 results PREVIOUS126NEXT

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