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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

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    11,914
  • 4 Stars
    5,471
  • 3 Stars
    1,813
  • 2 Stars
    494
  • 1 Stars
    347

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    8,366
  • 4 Stars
    2,579
  • 3 Stars
    679
  • 2 Stars
    155
  • 1 Stars
    131

Story

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    7,387
  • 4 Stars
    2,966
  • 3 Stars
    1,140
  • 2 Stars
    309
  • 1 Stars
    190
Sort by:
  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Ho Hum

I could not get my brain to rap around this one. Perhaps others may.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Sarah
  • Arlington, VA, United States
  • 01-27-12

This book is awful.

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Perhaps someone intrigued by circuses from the former half of the 20th century... or by grumpy old men in nursing homes.

Would you ever listen to anything by Sara Gruen again?

No.

What didn’t you like about David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ’s performance?

It was over the top at times, or the characterization was just off.

Any additional comments?

This book is not well written, and the storyline is just plain boring. The writing is overly simplistic and I found it hard to be interested in or feel empathy for the protagonist. A novel must either have masterful writing or an intriguing plot line (or both, ideally). In my opinion this had neither.

I enjoy slow plots when the writing is well-done. Take Lolita for instance... The plot moves slowly, but Nabokov's writing is so beautiful and rich that you just enjoy the experience. I can also appreciate a book that albeit not well-written, has an enthralling plot. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn't exactly a literary masterpiece, but the story is engaging and you cannot wait to learn to more.

Overall, I did not enjoy this book nor would I recommend it to others.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • James
  • Salem, OR, United States
  • 03-31-14

Disappointed

What disappointed you about Water for Elephants?

I felt the book was contrived, and the author lacked depth in terms of writing talent and knowledge of the subject matter. I need to read the author's biography more carefully in the future. This is the first time a book so highly reviewed was so highly disappointing to me. I am afraid there might be too many "friends of Sara" reviewing here on Audible. Or perhaps it is more of a case of animal lovers refusing to judge the book on its own merits.

What do you think your next listen will be?

The Ghosts of Belfast

What didn’t you like about David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ’s performance?

I admit the subject matter was the main challenge for both performers, but the younger guy's voice sounded too nasal and shrill. I found myself wanting to tell him to stop his stupid whining and over-emphasing his words. I couldn't stop rolling my eyes and shaking my head at times.

What character would you cut from Water for Elephants?

The older narrator. The whole nursing home part of the story was annoying.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Blah...

I just couldn't get into this book. I know it's widely loved, but it bores me. I need to be engaged within the first few chapters and this one just didn't do it for me.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Rosie the bull elephant?

How can Rosie be a bull elephant, she is a female ? Doesn't this bother anyone that "bull" elephant is mentioned at least 200 times in this book? What's wrong with the author checking the most simple and basic facts? I thought the book simple and very predicable, not very well written.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Don't waste a credit!

What disappointed you about Water for Elephants?

Narration was very good; BORING story! Didn't even finish it, what a wasted credit. Hope Robert Pattinson can make the movie because it won't fly on the storyline.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • Skaneateles, NY, United States
  • 06-27-15

Horrible

Picked this up on sale. Thought it might be an interesting period piece on circus life. No. Not really. It is a sappy, predictable, cheesy romance for 12 year old girls with black and white cardboard characters. Ughhh. I only had about an hour left and I quit it. I just couldn't take it anymore.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Bored with it

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

I just couldn't get into this book. It wasn't at all what I was expecting

What do you think your next listen will be?

Not sure.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones ?

I'm not sure.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

No

Any additional comments?

Better to say nothing, than say anything at all.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • AmP83
  • United States
  • 04-12-11

Don't let the high ratings deceive you...

This book was too crude for me. I had a gut feeling it would be, but bought it anyway because of all the other fantastic reviews. I didn't finish it and wanted to advise others who might be wary of the "twisted" "freaks, grifters, and misfits" to choose something else. Too bad, too, because the story really would have been great without the vulgar sexuality and brutish behavior.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Heather
  • Berkeley, CA, United States
  • 01-25-11

Surprisingly Bland

I found this surprisingly dull. Or at least, lacking any surprise... this is the story of a guy who joins the circus during the depression. Now imagine all the quirkiness that ensues. That's the book. The story is cobbled together from all the folklore about circuses - life on the train, dealing with animals and shady characters. Throw in some unrequited love, and you have yourself a cheap novel. This is pure plot, and not a particularly interesting plot at that. The characters are wholly unremarkable and flat - there's no real clear motivation or mystery. The people don't change, they continue to be surprised and excited by the same things. By the end of the book (no spoiler, don't worry...) you really have no idea who the narrator is, except that he had an adventure early in his life.

I didn't find anything offensive. The scene that seems to offend anyone is right in the first chapter or two and seems there merely to tell you "the circus is crazy! you never know what's going to happen next!" but really you do know, and really this is the raciest thing that happens in the whole book. You know that there will be an elephant, and that they'll travel by train, and that someone will get hurt and that there will be a speakeasy that is raided, and that moonshine is bad for you, that there will be some hazing for new members of the circus, and that there are always tensions between the performers and the working men, and that lions are scary and monkeys make great companions while doing the rounds.

About the only interesting character is August. And even his background ends up being a total cop-out on the author's part. Yawn.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Suzannah
  • 08-16-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Fran
  • 08-30-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Kelly
  • 07-05-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Paul
  • 11-15-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • w
  • 11-07-11

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

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Claire Mills
  • 10-30-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • joanna
  • 10-02-11

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

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • holly bird
  • 06-30-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Annie
  • 10-22-10

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Madgey
  • 07-18-11

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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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Chistine
  • 10-04-17

Elephant brutallity

A well written story. The scenes where the elephant is so cruelly treated were so vivid that I almost stopped listening and felt quite anxious while listening.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Tim
  • 02-12-16

Great book, great narration.

Sorry to finish it. The story started a little slowly but soon exploded with colourful characters and a great description of a time gone by. Loved the book.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Itwasnotmeau
  • 07-08-15

Great book

I loved the story found it hard to stop listening. A sad story very entertaining