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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 (14688 )
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Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Cherri 12-22-11
    Cherri 12-22-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    53
    ratings
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    Performance
    Story
    "What's all the hype about?"
    Would you try another book from Sara Gruen and/or David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ?

    I probably wouldn't read another book by this author simply because I didn't enjoy this book. The story was well developed, the characters also, but I just didn't like the story line. I didn't care for the various characters. Perhaps the circus just isn't my thing.


    What about David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ’s performance did you like?

    The readers were fine. Rather harsh vocals, but they fit the characters and setting.


    Was Water for Elephants worth the listening time?

    Not in my book.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Phillipston, MA, United States 10-21-11
    David Phillipston, MA, United States 10-21-11 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    20
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    "Absolutely BRILLIANT book!"

    WOW! Ear Candy all the way. Brilliant story! Brilliant writing! Brilliant narration. Triple crown, Hat trick, full sweep of this reader/listener. One of the best books I have ever 'heard' and I have been listening to books for over 20 years - right up there with Twain's "Roughing It" The Patrick Tull narration of all the Patrick O'Brien books, Beryl Markham's "West with the Night," Elisha Hunt Rhodes' "All for the Union" and David James Duncan's "The Brothers K." This joins the list of my all time favorite recorded books

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Angel Asheville, NC 09-29-11
    Angel Asheville, NC 09-29-11 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
    ratings
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    66
    7
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    "Beautiful and refreshing..."

    Sweetly sad and beautiful. A little mystery, a little romance, and a whole lot of good storytelling. The readers of this book breathe life into the main character. A gentle old man and his younger self tell you the fantastic, color laden story of his life, his love and his heart's great secret. Laugh, cry and gasp your way through this awesome book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher San Diego, CA, United States 08-19-11
    Christopher San Diego, CA, United States 08-19-11 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    25
    ratings
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    81
    20
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    2
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    Overall
    "I don't get it"

    Ok, so the elephant is a metaphor, but it's really not worth suffering through the rest of the story to learn what the book is trying to say. The female character has no substance. I cannot understand how this story got so many good reviews.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen Springfield, OR, United States 08-04-11
    Karen Springfield, OR, United States 08-04-11 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    26
    ratings
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    "A Worthy Effort"

    In this audiobook, the portrayal of old man Jacob by John Randolph Jones was spot on. The enactment of the young Jacob by David LeDoux was good, but a little bit monotonous in tone. He did do a good job on the other characters' voices, making them sound different from Jacob. The book was well-written, with excellent characters who all had distinct personalities, and dialogue that rang true. I bought the depression era plight of a young veterinary student doubly shocked at losing his parents and then their home. This made a credible segue to his becoming the veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers circus. Ms. Gruen does a believable portrayal of the Depression era, the working class, and the animals in the menagerie. The story flows well, but is a bit melodramatic to my taste, in spots. The love story between Jacob and Marlena works, but is a little long in development. At first I did not see the relevance of the old Jacob interludes in the story, but they did lead to a sweet and appropriate ending to the book.

    I have one issue which maybe someone could answer. I don't understand the relationship of the prologue to the rest of the book. The text of the prologue duplicates the climactic event of the book itself, yet has a completely different outcome, and one that contradicts what happened "in real life". I don't understand why there should be such a contradiction, and it wasn't explained by something like "and then I woke up from the dream". Instead, the prologue merely ends with "in 70 years I never told a single soul" or something like this. So why do we have a difference of fact between two parts of the book? It is jarring and strange. I also note that in the movie, the character, Uncle Al, was deleted when the screenplay was written.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James & Sheila 07-22-11 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Enthralling!"

    This one kept me enthralled from beginning to end. The characters were vivid, as was the setting. The background music kept pace with the story. I felt an attachment to the characters, right down to the animals, and missed them when the story was over. Narration was excellent and the story line superb.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bokworm 07-21-11
    Bokworm 07-21-11 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Wonderful"

    I can't imagine this piece of literature being presented in any finer way. The narrators, particularly the elder, gave such depth to the words, that I am very pleased to have heard this book not read this book. The story is beautifully written and topped off with these extraordinary readings!!!!! I absolutely loved this book from the first few words to the end. P.S. I want to run off with the circus at the end too--much better than pureed food and losing the essence of who I am. To the author and actors--Thank you.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin in Vermont Vermont 06-29-11
    Robin in Vermont Vermont 06-29-11 Member Since 2011

    Home is where my books are.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An Amazing Experience"

    First of all, I'm so glad I didn't see the movie first. This book was a moving, funny and eye opening journey from beginning to end, and I am a Sara Gruen fan for life. I loved the reader, also. Read/listen to this book and then go visit an elderly loved one.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gayle 06-28-11
    Gayle 06-28-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Book, movie, and audiobook"

    I first read the book, then saw the movie, and have now listened to the audiobook. Somewhat surprisingly to me, of the three mediums I most enjoyed the audiobook. The narrators were terrific. I thought I might miss not having a female voice portraying Marlena, but the narrator was always spot-on. Very interesting and enjoyable listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarrie Bolingbrook, IL, United States 06-10-11
    Sarrie Bolingbrook, IL, United States 06-10-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    28
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    "Overrated"

    This book was filled with every cliche you can imagine; "I heard someone screaming, then I realized it was me," etc. The narrator that portrayed the young Jacob was beyond annoying although the older Jacob's narrator was really very good. The story is not developed; Marlene falls in love with Jacob out of the blue, Marlene's husband goes from a jerk to a sociopath without explanation. I really didn't want to finish it as it was trite and uninteresting. Also, I hate books that are supposed to be set in the past yet the dialogue is 2011, example: "zip it" and liberal use of the "f" word. However, the author clearly got her hands on a list of circus terms because she wanted to work them to death, i.e. "first of May" and "red-lighting." It also drove me crazy the way they referred to the female elephant as a "bull". Ridiculous.

    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.

    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
  • 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.........

    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
  • 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.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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