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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 (14247 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Linda 10-24-12
    Linda 10-24-12 Member Since 2015
    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
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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.

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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!

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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
  •  
    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 Tasmania Australia 07-13-12
    Wendy Lohse Tasmania Australia 07-13-12 Member Since 2014

    age 60

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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
  •  
    Neil 04-27-12
    Neil 04-27-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Excellent"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisa United States 04-25-12
    Lisa United States 04-25-12 Member Since 2014

    Mark Twain

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Sweet 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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cherri 12-22-11
    Cherri 12-22-11
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    "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
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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
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