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Water for Elephants

Written by: Sara Gruen
Length: 11 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (72 ratings)

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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

What the critics say

  • 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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Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great book

Hate to say goodbye to this one. Wonderful with the animals. Fabulous reader. I’ll listen again.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Straight to the heart!

A beautiful story with memorable characters. very curious to see how they've adapted this for film because so much happens ! 5 stars all the way!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Incredible!!

I loved this book so much. it's a must read.
I love the true story and the way the author tells the story from present and past

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Deserves 6 out of 5 stars!

Great writing ! Story grips and leads one through the action, surprises at every turn.
And the readers couldn’t have been better!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Loved it.

#Audible1
An old novel but a great novel! I love how the characters were built and I love the style of writing. It’s a great read.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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makes you want to learn

Performance was amazing! The story is great. Horrific times and sad but makes you love it.
great entertainment ready to try her next book



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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • VegasRunaway
  • 2016-06-11

What am I missing?

It didn't get why this book got such good reviews. I thought it was average. Maybe I'm missing something, but I thought the story was predictable and the characters were very one dimensional. The same old story of the boy rescuing the girl from an older, cruel husband and the instinct of an animal to protect those who have been kind to them. The present day elderly Jacob is crotchety and unpleasant. I may be way off because this book had so many positive reviews but I didn't find anything special about it.

30 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Randall
  • 2007-07-22

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.

128 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • carol linker
  • 2007-01-05

boring

I love books on the circus. After the rave reviews I had high expectations. I found the story boring, the narration silly, and the characters one-dimensional. Very disappointing.

17 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Sarah
  • 2012-01-27

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.

40 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Jess B
  • 2017-02-23

I didn't care for the story

The voice acting was very well done. I didnt care for the random music in between certain chapters. it was distracting and kind of annoying. but my real fault with this book was the story itself. I just didn't care for it. the old man version of Jacob depressed me. the young version, meh. I disliked what happened with Camel and Walter. there wasn't really much about this story that I -liked- ...

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 2012-05-19

don't buy

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

nothing

Has Water for Elephants turned you off from other books in this genre?

absolutely not

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

the narrator is not the problem, it's the storyline

Any additional comments?

the entire story, while it points out some realities most of us don't want to know about, upset me so much I never finished the book. I will delete it from my library permanently!

19 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Britney Petersen
  • 2012-01-22

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.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Dave
  • 2011-04-01

Where are these high ratings coming from?

Although the basic story had charm and nostalgia, there were a number of passages that left me squeamish and hesitant to finish. Many of the situations are not believable, and many of the characters are over-cooked although much of that is due to the narration.

The narration by David LeDoux is over processed and forces a personality on Jacob Jankowski that leaves little to like. Most of the characters feel overwrought at the hand of Mr. LeDoux. A narrator’s job is do build a framework that let’s the author's character come through allowing the reader's imagination fill in the rest. If Sara Gruen wanted a whiney, hotheaded, self-centered annoying protagonist, I stand corrected.

The exception to the narration is the John Randolph Jones interpretation of the older Jankowski at the end of the trail. His portrayal was poignant and sensitive. I am sure my opinion of the book would be more favorable had the narration risen to the level of Mr. Jones.

I can not recommend this one. I need a Larry McMurtry quick.

19 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • AmP83
  • 2011-04-12

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.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • James
  • 2014-03-31

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.

24 people found this helpful