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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

Overall

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    11,326
  • 4 Stars
    5,296
  • 3 Stars
    1,776
  • 2 Stars
    481
  • 1 Stars
    339

Performance

  • 4.6 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    7,758
  • 4 Stars
    2,461
  • 3 Stars
    644
  • 2 Stars
    148
  • 1 Stars
    124

Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    6,839
  • 4 Stars
    2,814
  • 3 Stars
    1,084
  • 2 Stars
    294
  • 1 Stars
    181
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  • Story

Excellent book, even for someone who craves action

This is not my usual genre of choice. I tend to lean towards sci-fi, fantasy, or thrillers. But, I'm always trying to expand my horizons, so I thought I'd try literary fiction for a change.

The well-written characters and dialog sucked me in. The plot lacked some of pizzazz that I generally prefer, but it was gripping, full of drama and danger. I was satisfied.

I would have given this book 4 stars across the board, but the incredible writing and narration of the old man in the nursing home was A+ work, and some of the best listening audible has shown me so far.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Exceptional Narrators, Awful Story and Writing

Both narrators did an exceptional job with this book, and it was mostly because of them that I bothered finishing it. I cannot say anything bad about their narrations - some of the best I've heard. Their exceptional performances were wasted on such bad writing, however.

The main story was simplistic, dull, and predictable. The characters were flat and completely lacked chemistry. This was especially true for Marlena, wh, as far as I could tell possessed no personality whatsoever aside from being a helpless, beautiful woman married to an evil, evil man and in need of saving. The young Jacob was likewise dull and also selfish, with very few redeeming qualities outside his bilingual abilities.

That said, the flashes forward to the old Jacob in the nursing home were truly inspired and moving. A couple of times tears came to my eyes as I remembered my own grandfather. It was difficult to reconcile that the same author who wrote these lovely, moving, nuanced segments of an old man abandoned by his family, health failing, was also responsible for the mind-numbing drivel of the circus segments - the main plot of the story. In fact, it seemed to me that the two were so disjointed in tone, voice - everything really - that they were like two separate stories (of differing quality) thrown together.

If you enjoy excellent narration, this book is worth checking out, but be warned - the story itself is mostly annoying, badly written drivel.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Brock
  • DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain
  • 04-11-13

A Really Great Story

I was really drawn into this story. The author did a great job of developing the characters. I felt really endeared to the main character, and cheered for his success at every turn. In the same way I despised the "villains". Because of my schedule I had to listen to this over a few days. Each night I went to bed thinking about the story, and woke up eager to hop in the car and turn it back on.

I love thrillers, but after a while the stories all start overlapping in my mind, and it's hard to find something fresh without getting into sci-fi. This book delivers a great story unlike anything else I've heard. It also gave me a little insight into an era of our country's history. I also like it when an author doesn't leave all kinds of loose ends unresolved, and this book was very well written in that regard. I highly recommend it!

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

One of the best I've listened to

This was one of the best narrated books, and one of the best stories I've listened to, and I've listened to a lot of stories! The narrator did exceptionally well giving each character his or her own voice, and bringing the drama to life. I got so invested in the character of Jacob - I didn't want the story to end! I cried, I laughed, was scared and got angry! I absolutely loved listening to this and would highly recommend it to anyone.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Ugh!

I honestly had trouble finishing this book! And I INHALE most audiobooks I've downloaded. It really started to feel like a chore. I was checking the time on my iPod frequently to see how much longer I had til it was over.
So, WHY did I finish it? Because I hate not finishing things I start. I kept waiting for it to get good. I enjoyed the crotchety old man more than anything (I work with alot of older men, so I have a huge soft spot for them!)
I say, save your money and time, skip the book and just see the movie, which looks like it will be pretty good!

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Dave
  • Greenfield, WI, United States
  • 04-01-11

Where are these high ratings coming from?

Although the basic story had charm and nostalgia, there were a number of passages that left me squeamish and hesitant to finish. Many of the situations are not believable, and many of the characters are over-cooked although much of that is due to the narration.

The narration by David LeDoux is over processed and forces a personality on Jacob Jankowski that leaves little to like. Most of the characters feel overwrought at the hand of Mr. LeDoux. A narrator’s job is do build a framework that let’s the author's character come through allowing the reader's imagination fill in the rest. If Sara Gruen wanted a whiney, hotheaded, self-centered annoying protagonist, I stand corrected.

The exception to the narration is the John Randolph Jones interpretation of the older Jankowski at the end of the trail. His portrayal was poignant and sensitive. I am sure my opinion of the book would be more favorable had the narration risen to the level of Mr. Jones.

I can not recommend this one. I need a Larry McMurtry quick.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Patti
  • Louisville, CO, USA
  • 11-21-09

How Delightful!

What a pleasant surprise. As a lover of historical fiction, I really enjoyed this story set mostly in Depression-era America about, of all things, a young verterinarian who joins a circus. The two narrators, the young and elderly version of the main character, add depth to an already-captivating story. The book is also a tale of life and adventure on the American railroad. This was the era that my parents grew up in and I could hear my father in the pitch-perfect voice of the older Jacob.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susanna
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • 09-22-09

Magnificent book, sucky ending

I loved every moment of this book until the very end of the ending. The book deals with themes of aging and loss (among many others) and then has a ridiculous ending tacked on that cheapens the growth and acceptance we see the character go through. Listening to the ending frustrated me because I loved this book and the character and the ideas in it so much and then the author undermined her entire project in the last five minutes.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A cheap trick but entertaining

Though this was a good 'read', ultimately it was a disappointingly cheap shot. Characters rather stock, plot not that fascinating. The plot relies on a twist at the end to hold interest. I love the circus and I loved how the book started; ultimately the characters--at least the human ones--were predictable and not that interesting

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Under the Big Top

There aren't that many books written in the first person, by an old man reminiscing. Nor are there many books written about circus life. This book compared favorable with the two others I've read. The plot was a bit predictable, but all in all it was a memorable read. It brought you back to the Great Depression & the hardness of life. It also introduced you to characters who made the best of things & developed friendships & loyalties along the way.I loved the animals, each with his/her personality. I thought this was a part that could have been expanded on. I cared about the people, and both endings were completely satisfying. In fact, I wish the story had continued a little more. And yes, I did sit in my car to finish chapters.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthony
  • 06-10-11

brilliant

This is a book you must listen to. Absolutely stunning piece of work. Never in a book have I felt so much as though I was there, the smells, the noises. Perfection.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Rowan
  • 06-09-11

so dull

After reading the good reviews I thought I couldn’t go wrong. The narration was very good although the younger fella did squeak in a pre pubescent way at times when yelling out a swear word which only made me dislike the young hero of the story even more. The main fella in the story has no depth to his character. Nauseatingly nice ginger veterinarian student who can also kick ass. The reasons why this red head is so handy with his fists is never explained. The whole story is paper thin and deeply boring. The author is excellent at the descriptive but oh my what a tedious story. If it wasn’t for the odd F word and a masturbating midget it would be a child’s book. Young teenager at most.

0 of 2 people found this review helpful