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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

Critic Reviews

  • 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 Ratings


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  • Overall


*THE* most fabulous audible I've listened to ....all other will pale. I was filled with sorrow when it was over....and miss the characters. Will listen to it again, and again.

  • Overall
  • Bret
  • SOUTH BERWICK, ME, United States
  • 11-12-10

Great narration, good book

I was hooked with the narration of this book- it definately added to the reading experience. The plot was good too, with charracter development and interesting plotlines. There were some graphic, uncomfortable parts, but overall I have reccomended this book to several people with varying tastes.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Stanley
  • Germantown, WI, United States
  • 11-11-10

Addition of Last Minute Character Diminishes Value

My objection to many modern books is the addition of a last minute character who quickly redirects the flow of the novel from where it would have gone otherwise. I was a hijacked reader who was forced to make a 90 degree turn. The ending was unreasonable and diminished my enjoyment of the book. Frankly, I had written a better ending in my head.

Having said that, both readers did a fantastic job and made the journey up to the last couple of chapters enjoyable.

  • Overall

Listening to this book is the only way to read it!

This is a great story but it only comes alive when listened to - the sequential chapters of the old man and his younger self are wonderfully performed by the readers -- it is worth listening to even if you have already read it!

  • Overall
  • Katherine
  • NOVATO, CA, United States
  • 11-10-10

A book you cant stop listening to!

I have heard wonderful things about Water for Elephants, and this was only my 3rd audiobook. After I started listening and getting into the characters I couldnt stop listening!! I switched off between listening during my walks and listening during my long commutes in the car. The book was so good I actually looked forward to my long drives to and from work. I just finished and I am sad it is over. I definitely recommend getting this book. It had the perfect amount of romance and excitement- a few action scenes as well!

  • Overall
  • Ellen
  • Boulder, CO, United States
  • 11-07-10

Fantastic story & narrator

This book was wonderful. I couldn't stop listening as soon as it started. The narration was perfect. I highly recommend this book as a quick listening, entertaining story.

  • Overall

A lovely love story

set against the harsh realities of the traveling circus. The brutality of a few individuals shapes the misery of animals and humans alike. The comraderie amongst the different factions is touching. And the narrator's description of old age is at once humorous and poignant. This is a wonderful read.

  • Overall

Loved it!!!

I was really sad when this book ended. It was very entertaining and heart wrenching. My parents are in their 80's are facing nursing home life. It touched my heart...

  • Overall

A Great Tale

I don't write many reviews because not so many stories I listen to mean so much that I want to write one. This is an exception. I've not read Water for Elephants and I don't believe I will. My imagination is pretty good but it won't come as close as narrators David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones to recreating Jacob Jankowski's world. This isn't a complicated story and there aren't alot of twisting subplots. What it is, is a great tale told from either end of a man's life. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good story where the characters come alive and you can smell the circus. Bravo!

  • Overall
  • Stephanie
  • St. Paul, MN, United States
  • 10-19-10


John Randolph Jones' narration was the bright spot in this one. In the middle I found myself waiting for the end, not because I was enthralled, but more because I wanted to get on to my next book.