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)
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
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.
I don't understand why this book is a top seller. Very predictable! I had to stop listening and make myself finish it a few days later because it used a point. I like a book to make me feel good at the end and this did not! who wants to read about animal cruelty!
Avid audible listener for over 10 years.
I listened to this book several years ago, and I can never get it out of my head. It's a testament to " you only live once", so take chances and enjoy life as it comes. The novel begins in a nursing home (where we all will wind up some day) and goes back in time to life in a traveling circus in the 1930s. Join a circus, how great is that. Superbly written and narrated. On my top ten list of best audible books.
Both narrators did an exceptional job with this book, and it was mostly because of them that I bothered finishing it. I cannot say anything bad about their narrations - some of the best I've heard. Their exceptional performances were wasted on such bad writing, however.
The main story was simplistic, dull, and predictable. The characters were flat and completely lacked chemistry. This was especially true for Marlena, wh, as far as I could tell possessed no personality whatsoever aside from being a helpless, beautiful woman married to an evil, evil man and in need of saving. The young Jacob was likewise dull and also selfish, with very few redeeming qualities outside his bilingual abilities.
That said, the flashes forward to the old Jacob in the nursing home were truly inspired and moving. A couple of times tears came to my eyes as I remembered my own grandfather. It was difficult to reconcile that the same author who wrote these lovely, moving, nuanced segments of an old man abandoned by his family, health failing, was also responsible for the mind-numbing drivel of the circus segments - the main plot of the story. In fact, it seemed to me that the two were so disjointed in tone, voice - everything really - that they were like two separate stories (of differing quality) thrown together.
If you enjoy excellent narration, this book is worth checking out, but be warned - the story itself is mostly annoying, badly written drivel.
So much to learn, and so little time to sit down and read. Thanks Audible.
I was really drawn into this story. The author did a great job of developing the characters. I felt really endeared to the main character, and cheered for his success at every turn. In the same way I despised the "villains". Because of my schedule I had to listen to this over a few days. Each night I went to bed thinking about the story, and woke up eager to hop in the car and turn it back on.
I love thrillers, but after a while the stories all start overlapping in my mind, and it's hard to find something fresh without getting into sci-fi. This book delivers a great story unlike anything else I've heard. It also gave me a little insight into an era of our country's history. I also like it when an author doesn't leave all kinds of loose ends unresolved, and this book was very well written in that regard. I highly recommend it!
This was one of the best narrated books, and one of the best stories I've listened to, and I've listened to a lot of stories! The narrator did exceptionally well giving each character his or her own voice, and bringing the drama to life. I got so invested in the character of Jacob - I didn't want the story to end! I cried, I laughed, was scared and got angry! I absolutely loved listening to this and would highly recommend it to anyone.
I honestly had trouble finishing this book! And I INHALE most audiobooks I've downloaded. It really started to feel like a chore. I was checking the time on my iPod frequently to see how much longer I had til it was over.
So, WHY did I finish it? Because I hate not finishing things I start. I kept waiting for it to get good. I enjoyed the crotchety old man more than anything (I work with alot of older men, so I have a huge soft spot for them!)
I say, save your money and time, skip the book and just see the movie, which looks like it will be pretty good!
Although the basic story had charm and nostalgia, there were a number of passages that left me squeamish and hesitant to finish. Many of the situations are not believable, and many of the characters are over-cooked although much of that is due to the narration.
The narration by David LeDoux is over processed and forces a personality on Jacob Jankowski that leaves little to like. Most of the characters feel overwrought at the hand of Mr. LeDoux. A narrator’s job is do build a framework that let’s the author's character come through allowing the reader's imagination fill in the rest. If Sara Gruen wanted a whiney, hotheaded, self-centered annoying protagonist, I stand corrected.
The exception to the narration is the John Randolph Jones interpretation of the older Jankowski at the end of the trail. His portrayal was poignant and sensitive. I am sure my opinion of the book would be more favorable had the narration risen to the level of Mr. Jones.
I can not recommend this one. I need a Larry McMurtry quick.
I loved every moment of this book until the very end of the ending. The book deals with themes of aging and loss (among many others) and then has a ridiculous ending tacked on that cheapens the growth and acceptance we see the character go through. Listening to the ending frustrated me because I loved this book and the character and the ideas in it so much and then the author undermined her entire project in the last five minutes.
Though this was a good 'read', ultimately it was a disappointingly cheap shot. Characters rather stock, plot not that fascinating. The plot relies on a twist at the end to hold interest. I love the circus and I loved how the book started; ultimately the characters--at least the human ones--were predictable and not that interesting
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.
After reading the good reviews I thought I couldn’t go wrong. The narration was very good although the younger fella did squeak in a pre pubescent way at times when yelling out a swear word which only made me dislike the young hero of the story even more. The main fella in the story has no depth to his character. Nauseatingly nice ginger veterinarian student who can also kick ass. The reasons why this red head is so handy with his fists is never explained. The whole story is paper thin and deeply boring. The author is excellent at the descriptive but oh my what a tedious story. If it wasn’t for the odd F word and a masturbating midget it would be a child’s book. Young teenager at most.
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