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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

really worth listening too

I was addicted to this audio book and listened to it none stop. Really great readers, they made the book come to life. It is my opinion that good audio books are few and far between but this was great! I also recommend The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

  • Overall
  • Meg
  • HELOTES, TEXAS, United States
  • 04-09-11

Truly great

What a story! I loved every minute of this book. The voice and storytelling ability of both readers fit their character perfectly. You really can't have picked a better book when it manages to provide not only an entertaining escape from your daily routine but also an enchanting, and somehow still very relate-able, perspective on life's great joys (and familiar nuances).

  • Overall
  • Caroline
  • Alameda, CA, United States
  • 04-08-11


Wonderful story (although a little dark and sad in the beginning), enhanced by David LeDoux's narration. Couldn't wait to get in my car every day to pick up where I'd left off.

  • Overall

This is a Great Book!

Loved the characters, story kept me wanting more. Listened to it all within 2 days!
I would highly recommend this book to anyone!

The only part I didn't like was that at first I couldn't make out what the older man narration was saying but I got used to it.

  • Overall
  • Sarah
  • 04-07-11

Loved it!!

I absolutely loved this book!!! I found myself taking any opportunity I could to listen to it. This was my first book purchased on audible and I am MORE than happy that I decided on it.

  • Overall
  • Louise
  • Galt, CA, United States
  • 04-07-11

A beautiful story and a compelling reader.

I throughly enjoyed the story and the readers brought the story to life. As a nurse has worked in nursing homes for several decades, I especially appreciated the relationship between a very caring nurse and the main character.

  • Overall
  • Lannette
  • Ajo, AZ, United States
  • 04-07-11

Nice story, but would have liked more detail.

I had to read (listen) to the book twice to really appreciate it. It is a nice story with good characters and narration. I would have liked to see more in-depth character development as well as more details about the circus acts and the overall experience of that kind of travelling life. Thought it would be a bit more gritty, but a good read to the end.

  • Overall

Great listen!

Best book so far! I would really recommend for people with imagination. A must buy!

  • Overall

Very entertaining story

I thought the book was very well researched. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the both narrators ( one at age 23 and the other at 93) .

  • Overall
  • Angela
  • Queen Creek, AZ, United States
  • 04-06-11

Is it possible to give no stars?

I am so baffled as to why this was a best seller and why they are making this book into a movie. I could not finish this book. The characters are bad people, crude and mean. The story is boring to tears. The writing is not interesting. And the story is really predictable. After the first two chapters I just read the "cliff notes" on wikipedia and decided that my time was better served than suffering through the rest of the book. I am going to try to see if I can get a refund from was that bad.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful