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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

Easy read

Great car book! After the first five minutes I was hooked!

  • Overall
  • Freyda
  • metairie, LA, United States
  • 05-11-10


Absolutely engaging.

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A great listen

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Reads like a memoir

Wonderful description of the Depression era circus life in grizzly detail mixed with poignant and very funny sections of life in a nursing home.

  • Overall

A Complete Experience

Fully-fleshed characters, firm plot, tears at all the right places, gripping drama, two astounding narrators and a skillful author. Even the little bits of music added were perfect. I mourn the ending of this book but not the ending.

  • Overall
  • Diana
  • Victorville, CA, USA
  • 04-17-10

Best Audible I have ever listened to

I love this book! The characters come to life as you listen to the tale of the main character, young and old. Beautifully narrated.

  • Overall

Far better than I ever expected it would be

This book brought me to tears on several occasions due to the harshness and the beauty contained within the story itself, but I am so very happy that I held out to the end. Oh, what an ending, thank you! This story will appeal to those of us who know how perceptive and intelligent animals really are and also how wonderful and, at times horrible, humans can be.
Several friends have complained of not being able to get into the printed version of this book but I found the audio version to be fascinating from start to finish. I listen in my car to and from work and while cleaning house since these are the only bits of free time I really have these days - outside of a long haul flight. I was brought up in a home filled with avid readers, from the time I was 5 I always had a book in my hands. Discovering audio books has been a God-send. Now I cannot wait to get to my commute or housekeeping to find out what happens next!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The audio was as entertaining as the book.

One of those "laugh out loud" experiences created by great content and excellent narration. Kudos to you both.

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Fantastic read

I loved this book and hated for it to end.

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An affair for the heart

What a wonderful perspective this story is told from! Poor little, old, forgotten man - all his loving memories retold and relived. I especially loved the ending. True love and empathy embodied!