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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.
Regular Price:$24.46
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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 (15163 )
5 star
 (8565)
4 star
 (4379)
3 star
 (1503)
2 star
 (417)
1 star
 (299)
Overall
4.4 (7485 )
5 star
 (4319)
4 star
 (2004)
3 star
 (806)
2 star
 (218)
1 star
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Story
4.5 (7405 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
 (109)
1 star
 (97)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    Sher from Provo Utah 03-20-10
    Sher from Provo Utah 03-20-10 Member Since 2015

    tired teacher

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1356
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    373
    220
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    294
    0
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A sweet and tender story"

    I loved this book. I loved both of the narrators, but the old man was my favorite. He reminded me of my dad so much! As I sit here trying to decide what to write, I get a big lump in my throat thinking about these two incredible love stories, love between the man and his wife, and between the man and the circus.

    This book offers so many lesson for life if we readers are smart enough to learn them. Each character is trying to tell us something.

    When I read the ending, I wanted to jump up and down and shout, "Yes, yes yes!!!" That is the way it should end!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Heather Angwin, CA, United States 03-11-10
    Heather Angwin, CA, United States 03-11-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    7
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    47
    12
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "The seedy underbelly."

    Think of this book as a circus apocalypse story. Basically it covers a 3-month period in which the main character, an ivy-league vet student, accidentally joins the circus. What is revealed is a totally surreal sinister world. However the main character's life completely changes, and not necessarily for the worse. It's not a totally amazing book but definitely worth listening to. The two readers did an excellent job and the ending continues your suspension of belief.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel BerlinGermany 02-24-10
    Daniel BerlinGermany 02-24-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    16
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Nice"

    The story is great, and very well narrated. Loved the interplay between the old and young characterx in the story. The occasional music was unnecessary though, a bit irritating at times.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katy PARKER, CO, United States 01-15-10
    Katy PARKER, CO, United States 01-15-10 Member Since 2013
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    45
    2
    Overall
    "Absolutely wonderful"

    Previous reviewers have said it all; the writing, the narration,the originality...best of the best!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Edward E McKenna 01-07-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
    11
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    39
    9
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    0
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    Overall
    "A Throughly Enjoyable Listen"

    I absolutely recommend this book.
    The story, the narrative, the grand sweep of a long bygone era (not so unlike ours today) left me wanting for more. At the end, I laughed, and I cried, and started a second "listen".
    My only peeve, was that their should have been a third narrator for the female characters of the story (but then that might have brought the narration up towards the "Radio Staging" level of audio-drama's.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lorraine Kirkwood, MO, USA 01-03-10
    Lorraine Kirkwood, MO, USA 01-03-10
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    3
    1
    Overall
    "Excellent listen"

    This great story took us from St Louis to Snowmass Colorado. Excellent narration and what a great story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    01-03-10
    01-03-10 Listener Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    10
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    222
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    2
    1
    Overall
    "Epic Story"

    I consider this an epic story. Spans of a period of time. This one I would definitely recommend the audiobook for the fact that it is written in two different time periods and it is hard to tell which time is which. The audiobook has a different narrator for both time periods. Excellent character development. Good laugh and cry book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paula Salem, VA, USA 10-14-09
    Paula Salem, VA, USA 10-14-09 Member Since 2010
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
    1
    Overall
    "Wonderful book"

    Enjoyed the book...would recommend it, but found it sad at times listening to Jacob recall his life. Loved the way it ended for him.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marnie F. Biando Denver, CO 10-05-09
    Marnie F. Biando Denver, CO 10-05-09 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    34
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    92
    12
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    2
    Overall
    "Amazing read!"

    I read alot of my books while I am running and this book made for great company during some of my 2 hour runs on the weekends. I was completely engrossed by the story... who knew that a story about the circus could be so entertaining?

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bradley Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 10-02-09
    Bradley Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 10-02-09 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    6
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    122
    8
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
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    Overall
    "Fantastic!"

    This is and will always remain to be one of the best books I have encountered.

    0 of 0 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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