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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
    11,257
  • 4 Stars
    5,275
  • 3 Stars
    1,769
  • 2 Stars
    480
  • 1 Stars
    338

Performance

  • 4.6 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    7,675
  • 4 Stars
    2,449
  • 3 Stars
    642
  • 2 Stars
    148
  • 1 Stars
    123

Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
  • 5 Stars
    6,769
  • 4 Stars
    2,797
  • 3 Stars
    1,077
  • 2 Stars
    293
  • 1 Stars
    180
Sort by:
  • Overall
  • Patti
  • Chittenango, NY, United States
  • 01-31-08

One of My All Time Favorites!

Initially drawn by the mention of my hometown, this book drew me in quick! I loved the use of the older voice and the younger voice. It truly added dramatic appeal.

As a nurse, I was shamed by a realistic portrayal of nursing home life. As an animal lover, I was amused and enthralled by circus stories. As a woman, I was thrilled with the romance and chivalry. I did not want to stop listening.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • K
  • 03-18-07

Love/Hate Relationship

I had a love/hate feeling for this book. I loved the character in his old age and loved many of the characters in the book. It makes you think about how you treat others, class systems, and how easily you can judge others. What I didn't like about it was that there were at least three or four fairly explicit scenes which not only are they not romantic they are the kind you prefer not to think about. It would have been much better, in my opinion, if they had not put those uncomfortable scenes in. Maybe men would feel differently, I don't know, but as a woman I found them way over the top and offensive. It ruins the story that is truly a good story minus those scenes.

7 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Angie
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • 09-08-06

Very descriptive

The narrators in this book were excellent, the story was absorbing. I was drawn into the story. I would hae given it 4 1/2 stars, but you can't on this program. The only reason that it was not 5 stars for me was because there were places that it was very difficult to listen to becuase of the way one of the characters treated the animals in the circus. It certainly gave authenticity to the story because I am sure animals in depression era traveling circuses were not treated all that well. still it was difficult to hear and several times I had to take my earphones off untill the description was over.

Despite that, I did like the story, it is told by the main character Jacob at age 23 or 24 and at age 90 or 93, the older Jacob can't remember exactly how old he is. I loved the ending. it was very sweet.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

THE BEST.....

Unbelievably captivating. A life , a story, an adventure told and narrated in such a seamless manner that I was there. Step into this world and stay because you want to be there. Don't analize it. Just do it and finish with a satisied smile.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sandra
  • Boise' Idaho United States
  • 08-05-06

Sweet

I loved this book. There were so many interactions to focus on but the one I liked the best was between Rosemary and the 93 or 90 year old resident of the nursing home. I have been to many nursing homes and realize how hard it is to see the people "parked" outside their rooms as anything but furniture. Rosemary was a great example of grace. Her kind attention to this one old man was a center piece of the the book. She just took time to listen and care.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Good Book!

I have been wanting to read this book for awhile and I am glad that I finally got the chance.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Even better on Audible!

I️f like me you have read this story on paper and enjoyed it, you will absolutely love it on Audible. I was hesitant to download this story for the very reason that it was one of my favorite books and I didn’t want it to be poorly told. These narrators were superb and this Audible book will definitely be a favorite in my collection!

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Think twice before you run off to join the circus

Cruelty and love interwoven very powerfully. An interesting insight into a very different world.

  • Overall

Great read!

Doesn't dream of running away with the circus? Characters are well-developed and setting and adds depth to this book.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • G. Weber
  • Maryland's Eastern Shore, United States
  • 11-19-17

Fabulous story and narration

Having two narrators was genius, and they both serve up this captivating, rending and totally delightful story with great skill. Well done.