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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
    11,195
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    5,260
  • 3 Stars
    1,765
  • 2 Stars
    477
  • 1 Stars
    337

Performance

  • 4.6 out of 5.0
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    7,613
  • 4 Stars
    2,441
  • 3 Stars
    640
  • 2 Stars
    147
  • 1 Stars
    121

Story

  • 4.4 out of 5.0
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    2,781
  • 3 Stars
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  • 2 Stars
    291
  • 1 Stars
    180
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  • Overall

The book's beginning sets the stage

When you first meet Jacob Jankowsky you like him immediately and are rooting for him to be at the circus again. When his family fails to take him, one feels such a let down along with Jacob. Then the saga begins. The details of how the circus was run and the setting up and taking down of the tents and travelling by train with all the animals added such richness to the rest of the story. The author makes the illusion of magic as real for the reader as it was for the rubes who paid to see the show. One of those stories that will stay with the reader as it renews fond childhood and adult memories of going to see the greatest show on earth.

  • Overall

I'm probably in the minority...

I know I'm in the minority on this but I found this book pretty depressing. The parts about old Jacob in the nursing home were really depressing, when you think how many of us will end up like that. Maybe some sooner than others! Maybe that's why young people like it, they can't envision that sort of thing every happening to them.

At times too, I wanted to shake Jacob and tell him to stop mooning around after Marlena and go help Rosie when she was being beaten within an inch of her life. I know the life of circus animals was horrible back then but it seems like he could have done more as the circus vet to help. I know the story wasn't about that but I would have liked it better if he'd helped more.

I kept listening because my daughter told me it had a happy ending, which, thank goodness it did.

  • Overall
  • John
  • Portland, OR, United States
  • 04-30-11

not sure why but this book is overrated

This is the first audible book that I have bought with such a high rating that has just been ok. Up till now I have been using the ratings and reviews as a way of selecting books but it didn't quite work this time. It is not that the book is bad, it is just not that good and so I am not sure what the fuss is about. I agree with some other reviewers who suggested that at times the behaviour of characters didn't seem plausible.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fabulous

My measure of a good book is one that brings out strong emotional responses to characters and events in that book. Water for Elephants does that in spades. I laughed out loud, cried in places and felt genuine joy for some of the characters. This book is very well written, narrated flawlessly and is a captivating listen from the very first word. Do yourself a favor - buy it, get comfortable and be prepared to listen for hours on end.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • mintie
  • Chicago, IL, United States
  • 04-29-11

Really?

I HATE this book.
I'm struggling to finish it. I am at a complete loss as to why it's so popular. I don't care a fig about a single person in this book.

Also, with men narrating it, and lilting their voices when they speak women's parts, they sound like trannies. So now, to me, all the women in the story are trannies.

I honestly don't know why this is so popular.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Diane
  • humble, TX, United States
  • 04-29-11

First Audible Book

This was my first "listen" after joining Audible, and it was such a great experience; there is a magical feeling about the circus in the early 20th century and the people who lived that life. The story and characterizations are excellent, and the narration, as well. I couldn't wait till the movie came out, and just saw it - it was a good movie, but doesn't capture the imagination as the book does. I would recommend it highly to everyone; my husband enjoyed it as much as I did......Diane Gardner, Houston, TX

  • Overall
  • Lyle
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 04-29-11

Great Book

Definitely one of the best audiobooks I have listened to in a while. Excellent choice I pulled an all nighter on this I just couldn't stop

  • Overall

Better than expected

I really enjoyed this book. I was unsure of it at first, but once I got into it I had a hard time putting it down. The narration was awesome. Really liked the different 2 men as the main character. I highly recommend this book.

  • Overall

Not what I expected

If you think this is a book about the circus you would only be partially right. The first half is an exciting narrative of a young man's adventure. The second (in my opinion) is a typical "damsal-in-distress" love story which I didn't care for. The narration was fantastic! I loved that there were two people telling their story - one old and one young. The older narrator was absolutely fabulous! It was a good listen.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Simon
  • svendborg, Denmark
  • 04-26-11

Fantastic narrated

A really nice story that somehow reminds me of Life of Pi - maybe it is the ending that does it. But a highly recommended book with some of the best narrating I have heard of the maybe 50 books I have listened to.