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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
  • Erin
  • kingston, NY, United States
  • 03-17-11


I don't often listen to books under 15 hours,brevity being an illogical choice when paying the same amount of money regardless of minutes, but this book is captivating in the extreme. YES: there is nudity YES: there is sexuality YES: there is heartbreaking cruelty to those who, to this day, have no way to defend themselves. All I know is: complaining about the more graphic segments of this book is about as productive as complaining about the period of time being written about in the story. This is a book as colorful as it is endearing. It gives life to the black&white 3x5 of the human condition during the great depression by showing the joy that was still possible with the discovery of true love. A truly lovely read.

  • Overall
  • KM
  • MO
  • 03-17-11

Loved it

Thought it was great! The chapters with the older Jacob are so beautifully written and bring so much emotion. Highly recommended.

  • Overall

A Surprisingly Pleasurable Experience!!

Well written and excellently narrated. Beautiful in its simplicity. Like Jacob, I fell in love with both Marlena and Rosie. Heck, I fell in love with Jacob, too! :)

  • Overall
  • Jessica
  • Kansas City, KS, United States
  • 03-15-11

Great Book

This was so refreshing! I have read so many young adult romance books I almost forgot there was more to look forward to than a kiss good night! This book is well written and the character development is deep and meaningful. This story is well put together and a page turner I could hardly put it down! The love story is great but the life story is even better. This book makes you realize that life’s most important moments are in the struggles and details that pass by in each day.

  • Overall
  • Chris
  • West Valley City, UT, United States
  • 03-14-11

Not able to listen due to graphic sexual content.

I can't believe I used a credit for this! I could not listen to it. What started out as a greatly engaging story, quickly turned into the most graphic sexual descriptions I have heard in all of my reading. I tried fast-forwarding, turning down the volume, etc. But finally I just turned it off. Those parts were not needed for the story.

  • Overall
  • Melissa
  • Dayton, OH, United States
  • 03-14-11


Wonderful and one of the best audio book ever...I truly recommended this for any age or gender whether you like historical fiction or something else, anyone can enjoy this story. The narration is brilliant with well developed characters and just an all around beautiful tale that I was oh so sorry to see end; I'll definitely listen again

  • Overall
  • Renee
  • Waianae, HI, United States
  • 03-13-11

Loved the story!

I listen to audible books to be entertained. And this book held my attention through hours of work. I loved the narration and how the story unfolded. I would listen to it again. I didn't mind some of the vulgarity. The story gave you a real sense of what circus life would be like behind the scene. Colorful, gritty, and raw.

  • Overall

I can't stop listening!

I'm only half way through the book and I can't stop listening....there's something magical about the circus in the 1920-30's depression era.
This is definitely an ADULT ONLY book...there are some sections of adult content that children and some teens should not hear. Some people who reviewed this book used those sections to based their decision for not liking it, but i think it gives the book a more realistic feel and some of them are funny...well the made me laugh.

  • Overall
  • MaDonna
  • Victoria, TX, United States
  • 03-07-11


Really enjoyed this book, wasn't too sure about it in the beginning, but the book shocked me and made me laugh!

  • Overall
  • Anna
  • Herndon, VA, United States
  • 03-06-11

Good, but not great

I think this book was good, but the suspense was highly lacking. If it hadn't been for the forward (which was a scene from the very end of the book), I'm not sure there would have been much interest on my part at all. The narrators were alright, but lacked good character voices. All in all though, I still enjoyed it. A fun little book.