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
"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)
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
This book has everything it takes to make a great audiobook: wonderful characters, a compelling story, and memorable voice acting.
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.
It has been over five years since I listened to this book and it remains one of my all-time favorites.
Born 1949, living in outback New South Wales, Australia.
A Beautiful Metaphor
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.
No. Do they have others?
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.
Beautifully written and wonderfully read. The time shifts from the young Jacob to the old Jacob were easily melded.
My son had been trying for several years to get me to read this, and I found space in my listening schedule for it. Boy am I glad I did - I think the performance added a ton to an already excellent story.
At some times, the story was a little slow moving, in my opinion. However, the narration makes it engaging. I thought the idea of 2 narrators was very appropriate. I cannot imagine having listened to one person reading the whole thing. It definitely adds to the quality of the audiobook to have 2 narrators. I do not regret listening to this one. It's a very sweet story.
I wasn't too sure about this book as I had heard mixed things from others about it. But the narration was so well done, the character developement so rich and the pacing just right. I was hooked and pulled right along with the main character into this dusty dirty rough world. I rooted for the old man and cheered at the ending. I enjoyed the jumping back and forth between time frames, it added to the suspence and provided a breathing space at the same time. I was anxious to find out what would happen next, I cared about these characters. The narration of both the past and the present was just right. Excellent and well done, both the story and the performance.
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.
The readers were fine. Rather harsh vocals, but they fit the characters and setting.
Not in my 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
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.........
"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.
Unusual subject and not one I would normally choose. It made me laugh and cry. Brilliant. Do read it
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
"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 !!
"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.
"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.
"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.
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