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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

4.3 (14709 )
5 star
 (8273)
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4.4 (7062 )
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Story
4.5 (6983 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (95)
Performance
Sort by:
  •  
    David Floyd 07-01-08
    David Floyd 07-01-08 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
    19
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    371
    18
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Good story not a chick book"

    I was worried that this was going to be a "chick book," especially since most of the reviews I read were from women. This book does have a love story in it, but it's definitely not just for women, it's a very good story. I could have done with less of the old man, but over all I really enjoyed it. I highly recommend it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Covington, GA, USA 06-29-08
    Richard Covington, GA, USA 06-29-08
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    25
    1
    Overall
    "amazing read!"

    The only thing bad I can say about this book is that it ended! The story is told from two time periods, one from the young Jacob, and one from the older Jacob. I learned a lot about the nitty gritty of circus life in the depression era. I highly recommend this book, and I really enjoyed the narration as well. Great story including love, youth, old age, loss, and joy.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carrie Fleming 06-29-08
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    69
    1
    Overall
    "Great Narration"

    This is an entertaining novel with very effective narration. The use of two readers, one as "young" Jacob and one as "old" Jacob is very helpful in navigating the leaps between flashbacks and current day. The story of Jacob's time in the circus keeps the reader involved while older Jacob undergoes the trials of growing old and no longer being able to care for himself. An interesting look into the depression era circus as well as the psyche of an aging man.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stevo 06-26-08
    Stevo 06-26-08 Listener Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    96
    2
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Good story, Great narration"

    Enjoyed the story. I would like to complement the two narrators. They were excellent!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Yessie N. Miami , FL, USA 06-23-08
    Yessie N. Miami , FL, USA 06-23-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    12
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Amazing"

    Loved this audiobook x a million. It was amazing. There has always been a part of me that has often wondered about the inner workings of the circus behind all the smoke and mirrors. Ending was a little too predictable but the road that leads you there is scenic.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Leslie A. Foote Monterey CA 06-12-08
    Leslie A. Foote Monterey CA 06-12-08 Member Since 2006

    hospice doc

    HELPFUL VOTES
    37
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    76
    18
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "charming and fun"

    This book is written in flashback form which is very poignant. The two narrators are wonderful and impart the main character's story with sincerity and good humor. I could hardly put this one down. A must for anyone who deals with the elderly, loves animals or just enjoys the circus!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer 06-12-08
    Jennifer 06-12-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    16
    5
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    0
    0
    Overall
    "Excellent Book"

    I had heard so much about this book; however, my work schedule prevented me from actually picking it up to read. Thus, I finally listened to it during my commute. It is an incredible book. It gave me insight into circuses. More importantly, it gave me insight into the endurance of the human psyche. Well worth the listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rhonda Lugoff, SC, USA 06-11-08
    Rhonda Lugoff, SC, USA 06-11-08
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    38
    1
    Overall
    "Water for Elephants"

    Way to go Joseph!!!What a great ending. I am an RN and have spent time in various capacities in a nursing home. Joseph's descriptions and feeling of what was going on around him were so accurate. What a great book....such sweet revenge!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jessica York, PA, USA 05-20-08
    Jessica York, PA, USA 05-20-08 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    52
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    65
    23
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "Worth Every Penny!"

    I bought this book last year because it was rate so well. I put off reading it because I thought it might be childish or too simplistic because it dealt with the circus. Boy was I WRONG! It was so fascinating to listen to the stories of the circus and everything involved with. It is almost like another world, I have to admit I haven't been to the circus since I was a kid but I want to go now!!! :-)

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    F. Curry 05-17-08
    F. Curry 05-17-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
    12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    50
    9
    FOLLOWERS
    FOLLOWING
    1
    0
    Overall
    "nice, warm read"

    Warm, nice story to curl up with..loved the ending.

    1 of 2 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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