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Water for Elephants Audiobook

Water for Elephants

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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

4.4 (18537 )
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4.4 (10566 )
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4.6 (10490 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 04-14-11
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 04-14-11 Member Since 2010

    Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    4
    Overall
    "How is this going to be a movie?"

    Several reviewers have mentioned a comparison of this story to Sophie's Choice, and the connection is obvious in the triangular relationship of the 3 main characters. But don't assume that this comparison implies the same quality of story and character development as the previous (far superior) work. Sara Gruen has not created characters that live and breathe. In fact, Marlena barely even speaks - her story (such as it is) is summarized for her by Jacob. She wimpers, she blushes, she covers her mouth with her hand, and she crosses her legs and bounces her foot up and down. I found it odd that a female author could not find a way to give life or even voice to any of the female characters, while working so hard to describe every carnal detail of the men. Who was she trying to impress? The elephant didn't make an appearance until the second half of the story, and had a surprisingly small roll. While the "Old Jacob" portion of the story was somewhat touching, I found that it slowed down what little momentum the circus story had. I did find the behind the scenes of a circus interesting, but from an outsider's point of view. The lack of life of the characters never really let me in. Knowing that the movie is coming out soon and that Reese Witherspoon is playing the lead, I wonder what she has to draw from to create a memorable performance - she certainly hasn't got much to go on from the book.

    9 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judy Evansville, IN, United States 10-26-11
    Judy Evansville, IN, United States 10-26-11
    HELPFUL VOTES
    118
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    100
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    Story
    "Hate it"

    I don't understand why this book is a top seller. Very predictable! I had to stop listening and make myself finish it a few days later because it used a point. I like a book to make me feel good at the end and this did not! who wants to read about animal cruelty!

    6 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John S MA 05-05-15
    John S MA 05-05-15 Member Since 2014

    Avid audible listener for over 10 years.

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1551
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    189
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    Story
    "I can never get this book out of my head"

    I listened to this book several years ago, and I can never get it out of my head. It's a testament to " you only live once", so take chances and enjoy life as it comes. The novel begins in a nursing home (where we all will wind up some day) and goes back in time to life in a traveling circus in the 1930s. Join a circus, how great is that. Superbly written and narrated. On my top ten list of best audible books.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 02-13-15 Member Since 2016

    I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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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
  •  
    Alexandria New York 05-05-13
    Alexandria New York 05-05-13 Member Since 2012

    Alexandria

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    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
  •  
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13
    Brock DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain 04-11-13 Member Since 2015

    So much to learn, and so little time to sit down and read. Thanks Audible.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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
  •  
    D. Evans Central New Jersey 04-30-11
    D. Evans Central New Jersey 04-30-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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
  •  
    S. Walker KCMO 04-19-11
    S. Walker KCMO 04-19-11 Member Since 2009

    Suzzzie

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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
  •  
    Dave Greenfield, WI, United States 04-01-11
    Dave Greenfield, WI, United States 04-01-11 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "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
  •  
    Susanna Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 09-22-09
    Susanna Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 09-22-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "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
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.

    10 of 10 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.

    8 of 8 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.........

    7 of 7 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.

    6 of 6 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

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Claire Mills
    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

    6 of 6 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 !!

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • holly bird
    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.

    6 of 6 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.

    16 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • Madgey
    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.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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