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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

4.4 (15171 )
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4.5 (7413 )
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3 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Laura Markham, ON, Canada 03-21-13
    Laura Markham, ON, Canada 03-21-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "AMAZING Book!"

    I can honestly say I haven't enjoyed a book so much in years. The narration was INCREDIBLE, I loved how it switched between the voices of Jacob at 23 and at 93.
    An excellent read. You won't be disappointed.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carrie Bird in Hand, PA, United States 03-14-13
    Carrie Bird in Hand, PA, United States 03-14-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
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    "Excellent narration! So-so writing."
    Would you try another book from Sara Gruen and/or David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ?

    The narration was lovely and I would listen to another book from either man. Sara Gruen thought up a great story, but some parts fell flat, and some characters were not well developed, ie Marlena.


    Has Water for Elephants turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No


    Was Water for Elephants worth the listening time?

    Yes, I did enjoy it, especially the parts of the book told from the older man's viewpoint.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ben Coquitlam, BC, Canada 01-09-13
    ben Coquitlam, BC, Canada 01-09-13
    HELPFUL VOTES
    102
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    67
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    "Loved it!"

    I had passed up on this book time and time again. I thought, "I"m not interested in a book about a circus!"
    When it went on sale, I thought, "What the heck!" and went for it. What a great move! (brilliant on my part, lol)
    Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Didn't think I would and was pleasantly surprised. After reading the book, I watched the movie. The movie was pretty bad. The book was great!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Linda 10-24-12
    Linda 10-24-12 Member Since 2015

    My reviews are rather simple but only because I want to convey my impressions of a story. I leave summaries to the publisher. LOVE Audible!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wow"

    I was reluctant to invest in this book but am I ever glad I did. The narration was incredible for the story. The story itself was so interesting and kept me guessing. I loved the way it was written and presented.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Caley Bandon, Oregon, United States 10-22-12
    Caley Bandon, Oregon, United States 10-22-12 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
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    "Loved it to the end!"

    This is a unique tale, and I dare anyone not to get sucked into it immediately. I had it in my library for a long time and never listened to it...I don't know why. But once I finally gave it a chance I was hooked. The movie's got nothing on the book, as usual, although it does stay fairly true to the story. The narrators were both great, also, and I loved how he did different voices for the characters that really worked for them. Sometimes I don't like when narrators do character voices, but these were very good and fitting.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela M. Southern California 10-14-12
    Pamela M. Southern California 10-14-12 Member Since 2012

    A book can get you out of your house, your town, even out of the country. I'm an avid reader believing reviews help find the good ones.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I wanted to Like this book!"

    I really really wanted to like this book. It had a good storyline with interesting characters. However, I had a hard time staying focused on the story with all the animal cruelty. I am sure it happened back in those days but I didn’t want to relive it or hear it when I am trying to relax and enjoy a book. The story would have been excellent had it not been for all the details of what they fed these animals (made me sick for hours). Maybe I am just to sensitive for a book like this. I did make my way through it and if things like this don’t bother you then I bet you would like this book. The dual narration was wonderful and I loved the ending so much so it brought me to tears. Maybe if a book can get such strong reactions out of a person it's worth a five star rating? Me.... I'm giving it three stars.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    valerie newport news, VA, United States 08-30-12
    valerie newport news, VA, United States 08-30-12 Member Since 2011

    I listen to books all the time, When I am driving, cleaning, cooking or doing anything quiet. I am AUDOBSESSED!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Amazing!"

    I am an entertainer, so I was naturally drawn to this book. I was spellbound by this story, and getting to be a fly on the wall so to speak in the world of the circus. I totally enjoyed every minute.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer United States 08-13-12
    Amazon Customer United States 08-13-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    5
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    "Captivating for sure"

    wonderful narration to go with this story line. An Audio hard to stop because you get caught up as if you were standing at the circus. Sad at times, but who knew what goes on behind the big top and after the circus is over. Circus life is anything but happy!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Virginia A. Campbell Pelham, Alabama USA 07-29-12
    Virginia A. Campbell Pelham, Alabama USA 07-29-12 Member Since 2005

    I am the host of the Brain Science Podcast and Books and Ideas. I have been a member of Audible since 2003. My favorite audiobooks are Sci Fi and nonfiction: especially history and biography

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    "One of my All-time Favorites"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    This book has everything it takes to make a great audiobook: wonderful characters, a compelling story, and memorable voice acting.


    What does David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    This book is one that is better in audio because of the voices of the narrators. The story alternates between the past (when the main character was young) and the present (where the same character is an elderly man in a nursing home). The two narrators capture this perfectly and make it easy to tell which part of the story one is listening to.

    I think it would have been confusing to read this in print, especially if one set the book down, and came back some time later.


    Any additional comments?

    It has been over five years since I listened to this book and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wendy Lohse outback NSW Australia 07-13-12
    Wendy Lohse outback NSW Australia 07-13-12

    Born 1949, living in outback New South Wales, Australia.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Exceptional Voices"
    If you could sum up Water for Elephants in three words, what would they be?

    A Beautiful Metaphor


    What other book might you compare Water for Elephants to and why?

    Perhaps I'd compare it with the Irish novel A Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and read by Stephen Hogan. Both are stories about the end of life and a review of the life that is ending. The one reader is used for two voices in the Secret Scripture - a 100 year old woman who has been locked up in a psychiatric hospital since she was 40. The other voice is that of her psychiatrist who has to review her due to the public outcry that some patients should never have been "held" as they are.

    Water for Elephants has two readers. The younger Jacob Jankowski is read very well by David Le Doux. John Randolph Jones reads Jacob in the nursing home at age 90, or is it 93? Some voices are absolutely perfect for a character. This one is. I go and listen to him over and over.

    The books themselves could not be more different. A Secret Scripture spans the entire 20th century Ireland. Water for Elephants uses the protagonist's adult life as a circus vet to present, in many ways, the difficulties involved in catering for the needs of the aged. Just like Water for Elephants. Geriatrics will always need more than you can give.

    The use of the two voices is a wonderful vehicle to carry such complex stories.


    Have you listened to any of David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No. Do they have others?


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Oh yes. As I age and face a nursing home future, I understood Jacob's distress at never having proper food. But they have this mush that has all its nutrients. Jacob wants a pot roast. And something to bite and crunch. Many moments and the brilliant ending were the most poignant for me.

    But the horror of horrors was the repeated beating of Rosie the elephant with a big hook that ripped through her leathery skin.

    In the early 20th century there were more travelling circuses than there are now. People stayed working in them for their whole working lives. It's a whole separate culture, that circus existence.


    Any additional comments?

    Beautifully written and wonderfully read. The time shifts from the young Jacob to the old Jacob were easily melded.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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.

    10 of 10 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.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Kelly
    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.........

    7 of 7 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.

    6 of 6 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

    6 of 6 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

    6 of 6 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 !!

    6 of 6 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.

    6 of 6 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.

    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • Annette Morris
    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.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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