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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

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Performance
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  •  
    Kindle Customer 06-18-06 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great Narration!!"

    An interesting story of the depression era and all the crazy characters of a struggling circus at that time. I really enjoyed the narration of the main character as he recounts his circus experiences at the age of 93 (...or was it 90); and also the narration of the same character living the experiences as they occurred. Very well written and very well narrated.

    50 of 51 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Teddy Bronx, NY, United States 06-09-12
    Teddy Bronx, NY, United States 06-09-12 Member Since 2015

    "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." - Jojen Reed. #ADanceWithDragons

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "This is what Audiobook should be..."


    This book was a home run all over! Excellent narration, superb storyline, engaging and interesting characters, great imagery and poignant.

    The reviews for this book are indicative of how excellent a book this really is. The entire book was done so incredibly well! When I first got this book I didn't really know what to expect, in fact I didn’t even know there was a movie about the book and had I known I probably wouldn’t have got the book due to my aversion at times to overhyped books turned movies... Good thing though because I would have missed out on a very good read...

    I found myself fascinated with how the Sara Gruen (the author) introduced Jacob at 23 and at 90 or is it 93 (you'll get it when you read to it). The different struggles with Jacob at these two different stages of life is manoeuvred quite will and interwoven immaculately with the main storyline. I like how the author was able to introduce the topic of growing ‘old and irrelevant’ at one end of the spectrum and being ‘young and impetuous’ at the other end. In both stages (the young and old Jacob) the common thread is tragedy and loss in a sense but eventually finding one’s place once more.

    The myriad of characters are all very interesting (as one can expect from a circus) and the relevant characters were all developed quite well! I found all the major and minor characters fascinating... Rose Marie, Uncle Al, Marlena, Camel, Walter, August... I honestly didn’t think any of these characters were short changed in terms of character development in this book and you get to peer into each of them even if it’s just a bit.

    Unlike a lot of books that tend to run on incessantly, providing you with seemingly useless details, Water for Elephants doesn't do that. Nor was it too short, it doesn’t leave you thinking that aspects of the books were rushed. It hit that sweet spot that so many books miss some times... that clear, nice balance of not being too long but not being too short and yet still leaves you wanting more. It has its sobering moments that make you nod silently in approval and smiles inwardly leaving you to go through the book a little slower, not wanting to miss the salient, poignant points being mentioned. It of course also has those nail biting moments that makes you sit up a little bit straighter and has you rushing the book trying to figure out what’s next and how everything is going to unfold. The closure at the end of the book was poignant enough and very fitting, but yet I wanted it to continue because it was just so good.

    Narration like this is what makes Audible titles and Audiobooks in general worth listening to. David LeDoux portraying John in his 20's was great but John Randolph Jones portraying John in his 90's is AMAZING! I like multiple narrated books and this certainly did not disappoint in any way, shape or form. Inflections were on par, strength of tone was excellent and pacing was superb... A better cast they could not pick and they brought life to these characters in a way I doubt much other narrators could.

    I would recommend this to anyone. Excellent writing, pitch perfect narration, engaging story, poignant life truths, sobering in all the right areas, fun in others, great timing, great character development and a very fitting closure. GREAT STUFF!

    89 of 92 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lizbeth Sussex, NJ, USA 08-31-06
    Lizbeth Sussex, NJ, USA 08-31-06 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "One of the best books this year"

    Honestly, when I initially read the book summary and saw that it was about circus life, I was turned off and did not want to purchase it. When I read the reviews, I decided to buy it. I generally dislike circuses, but this author detailed circus life with vivid detail and emotion. I was impressed by her depiction of the elderly Jacob and his emotional response to aging. Perhaps this will cause people to regard the elderly with more tender loving care.
    The two readers of this book added incredible depth and should be nominated for a grammy. I let my children ages 8 thru 15 listen to this book (there were a few sexually explicit scenes which I fast forwarded through) and they loved it and thought it would make a great movie.

    42 of 43 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Geff tacoma, WA, USA 06-19-06
    Geff tacoma, WA, USA 06-19-06
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A colorful & sweet adventure"

    Author Sara Gruen has spun a charming and unaffected tale of love, revenge and renewal that is made even more enjoyable by the equally gifted talents of David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones (dual narrators). This audio book was a giggle and a tear rolled into one. I'm very tempted to read a hard copy of this now just to see how it compares (and holds up) to what is now one of my favorite audio books. Superb!

    51 of 53 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Glenda Gallatin, MO, USA 01-08-08
    Glenda Gallatin, MO, USA 01-08-08
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved It!"

    I really loved this book. I had it on my wishlist for quite awhile before buying it and I am so glad I did. The two narrators in this book are wonderful... and in my opinion made the book even better. Love, Love, Loooooved it!

    32 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rita Arcata, CA, USA 04-28-10
    Rita Arcata, CA, USA 04-28-10
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    "A story to sink your world into"

    This was an amazing audio book. I just finished it and I already feel empty without it. The narration was spot on, the music was a great touch to really draw me into the life of the "show". I couldn't stop listening and when I did I dreamt of all the wonderful, bright, and vivid characters.

    47 of 49 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Frisco, TX, United States 05-31-11
    Mark Frisco, TX, United States 05-31-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I don't get it"

    The pace was too slow and there really was no point to it all. I almost turned it off on five different occasions, but fought through it only to be ultimately disappointed. I never write reviews, but felt compelled to do so on this one: Don't believe the hype -- this book is average at best, a waste of time at worst.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Sunnyside, UT, US 11-28-06
    Amazon Customer Sunnyside, UT, US 11-28-06 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "There arn't enough stars"

    This is the best book I have listened to this year and I listen to two books every month. The writing and narration was excellent. If you ask me about most books I read, I have to work hard to remember the plot. I have listened to three long novels since this book and still remember it vividly. It is books like this that make me love Audible.com.

    35 of 37 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anita Coon 03-25-10
    Anita Coon 03-25-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Swept away"

    This beautifully written story was wonderfully narrated by the two gentlemen as Jacob at 23 & 90...or 93. I absolutely loved it and was sorry when it ended. I especially enjoyed the elder Jacob's view of life in a nursing home. I would highly recommend this as a transporting read. I am listening to it again and enjoying the second time around.

    21 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Allison edwards, CO, United States 07-09-06
    Allison edwards, CO, United States 07-09-06 Member Since 2014
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    "Captivating and endearing"

    The character development in this book is very rich. You become quick 'friends' with the endearing characters, no matter their quirks and downfalls in life. The readers were wonderful. I've listened to this book multiple times!

    42 of 45 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 1169 results PREVIOUS12117NEXT
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  • Wendy
    Ramsgate, United Kingdom
    11/4/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A mixed bag"

    I liked Water for Elephants, but I wasn't blown away by it. The sections featuring the elderly Jacob were brilliant and made me think a lot about continuity of the self at different life stages. The plot of the main story was fairly engaging, albeit predictable and the book depicted circus life in the depression believably enough for me, not having experienced either. Having said that, I just didn't care enough about the human characters to buy into any of the tension and if I had been reading on paper, I'm not sure if have felt compelled to finish the book. It was nicely read by both narrators.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs. S. Mccarra
    Scotland
    8/16/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Life is so much more than the present."

    The scene is one that fascinates most of us - running away and joining a circus. This story tells of the highs and humour and pulls no punches when it comes to the blacker goings on in the train traveling circus of the prohibition era. What brought it particularly to life was the narration of the nonagenarian. The old man having been through such eventful times and now in a nursing home with his family forgetting about him. This was beautifully read with such feeling that it reminds you that people are not just what you see now but made up of their multifaceted past.
    I am a regular audio book listener but only a very few strike me like this when the story and narrator/s come together to make something so beautiful even when listening to the more horrific events of the time. Life is so much more than the present.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • sarah
    United Kingdom
    7/29/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A beautiful and engrossing tale!"
    What about David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ’s performance did you like?

    very well performed, easy voices to listen to


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    yes, I had a tear at the end from the luck and kindness shown to Jacob that he no longer had to endure the emptiness of old age


    Any additional comments?

    A beautifully written book! I thought it may be a bit “dark” or full of sadness but I was wrong, its an engrossing read with love, torment, tragedy and heart warming happiness……all at the circus.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Alison
    7/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Unusual love story"
    What made the experience of listening to Water for Elephants the most enjoyable?

    The description of circus life before it was politically incorrect to have animals at the circus.


    Which character – as performed by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones – was your favourite?

    The main character as an old man.


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I was disturbed at the cruelty to some of the performers and staff as well as the animals.


    Any additional comments?

    A love story with a difference.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • ROBIN
    Reading, United Kingdom
    4/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Boring"
    What would have made Water for Elephants better?

    It has potential for human interest.


    If you’ve listened to books by Sara Gruen before, how does this one compare?

    Sorry but no!


    How could the performance have been better?

    The mix of cameo flash backs notably from the same character at differing age landmarks,and reliving the same scenario was intriguing.But clearer differences in the narrators' voices and /or pausing to let images sink in would have been helpful overall. Somehow they all sounded the same !


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Water for Elephants?


    None specifically as overall the delivery was monotonous ,lacked pace ; they failed to capture and retain interest.This was not helped by the 'old man' sounding like a 'stock' act of stereotypicality ; every word had the utmost gravitas without balance.The American accents were also difficult to sort out ; it became tiring to experience and did not stimulate enthusiasm.


    Any additional comments?

    I gather the actual written novel has been well received which makes this Audio version a let down. It's the performance which fails !

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • MRS
    Pego, Spain
    3/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Enchanting"
    What did you like most about Water for Elephants?

    The whole story was very evocative and compelling. I particularly felt drawn to this as my 3xgrandfather was a "dompteur", a tamer of wild animals with a menagerie in the late 19th century and very little is known about his day to day life as a performer (apart from what I have discovered form old newspaper cuttings), and this story suggests a lot of truth in the way people lived in a circus environment at those times.


    What other book might you compare Water for Elephants to, and why?

    This book stands alone. It is the story of an intelligent man forced into a lifestyle he has no concept of, learning with compassion for both man and beast about the harsh realities of life in this shabby world of the travelling circus. Despite the struggles he had to endure, both mentally and physically, he was able to maintain his own inbuilt moral standards and was a well rounded individual whose capacity to do right never wavered .


    Any additional comments?

    I loved this book and the performance by the narrator was exceptionally brilliant.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs
    Rayleigh Essex, United Kingdom
    1/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Did not want it to end!"

    This a wonderful story, and so well read by both narrators. It is a very moving and interesting insight in to the circus world. Never once did it lack in interest, I wanted it to go on for ever.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Vanda
    Sandown, United Kingdom
    12/5/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Worth a listen"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Water for Elephants to be better than the print version?

    I don't know, I've never read the print version but having said that I liked listening to it.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Rosie the elephant was my favourite character. She endured so much and got her own back in the end.


    Which character – as performed by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones – was your favourite?

    Walter the midget


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Yes, when he lost his parents and described how he felt. After losing someone very important it dug up all those feelings of loss and grief.


    Any additional comments?

    Don't read this book if you're feeling particularly down about anything ... It will make you feel worse.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Laura
    Woking, United Kingdom
    8/2/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Good story and developed characters"

    I enjoyed this book very much and thought the characters were very believable. The life in a travelling circus is brought to life, as is the side story of the old gentleman.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Kat
    BASINGSTOKE, United Kingdom
    5/7/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "awesome book! and so nicely written"

    What a gorgeous story. I watched the movie first but the movie doesnt do this captivating story any good! its like entering a whole new magical captivating world back in time

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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