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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants (2006)

by Sara Gruen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
21,617101861 (4.08)1 / 800
  1. 71
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Pax_Biblio, starfishian)
  2. 73
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (LindsayGentles)
  3. 20
    Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (Pax_Biblio)
  4. 31
    Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster (Smiler69)
    Smiler69: Set during the Great Depression, a young boy is taught how to fly to become part of a travelling vaudeville act.
  5. 10
    The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin (Alliebadger)
    Alliebadger: Both well-written stories about the performing life. Very different sides of it, and in very different time periods, but both well-written and exciting.
  6. 21
    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (heidilove)
    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
  7. 10
    The spangled road by Borden Deal (VictoriaPL)
  8. 32
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (shesinplainview)
  9. 10
    At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen (Eowyn1)
  10. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
  11. 10
    Cat Man: A Novel by Edward Hoagland (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Considered by some (in the business) to be the best (most accurate) circus novel ever written.
  12. 10
    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
  13. 21
    Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (PaperbackPirate)
    PaperbackPirate: circus
  14. 00
    Walking on Air by Pierre Delattre (cammykitty)
  15. 00
    One Good Dog by Susan Wilson (SATURNBEAR)
    SATURNBEAR: A great story of animals and people coming together and overcoming painful histories.
  16. 00
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (sturlington)
  17. 00
    The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson (joririchardson)
  18. 11
    The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Hibou8)
  19. 33
    Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg (Cecilturtle)
  20. 00
    Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase-Riboud (jennyellen22)

(see all 26 recommendations)


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English (992)  Dutch (4)  Spanish (4)  French (2)  Norwegian (2)  Finnish (2)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (1,014)
Showing 1-5 of 992 (next | show all)
I have pretty much the same review as everyone else's I've read. I really would have given it five stars if it wasn't for the unnecessary and crude sex scenes. I really did love the story. It was fast paced and held my attention. I also liked the style it was written in, as mostly flashbacks. ( )
  KR_Patterson | Apr 28, 2015 |
I bought this book back in my bookseller days, and I read the first two pages, and I yawned, and I put it on my bookshelf. I knew at the time that it was a matter of mood, not the book, and figured that all the screaming fans couldn't be wrong. And then more and more people raved about it. And then they made a movie. And then even more people raved about it. And then everyone who ever read it expressed a shock bordering on outrage when I admitted that I hadn't read it. So I settled in for the long haul of resentful non-reading. (I can be stubborn.)

But this year I am working my way through my TBR list, beginning with the oldest. And Water for Elephants was up. And I must admit, I can see this is going to be the biggest benefit of 2013's "Project TBR." Reading all these books that I've been putting off. Sure, some of them have been letdowns, and one of them I've abandoned, possibly forever. (I'm looking at you, Dostoevsky.) But I've also discovered some truly enjoyable reads. This one, for example. And I can't put my finger on exactly what made it so absorbing. It's kind of a disturbing story. There's violence against animals. Domestic violence. The working poor are taken advantage of. Some of my favorite characters were killed in a heartbreaking way. And yet I couldn't stop reading.

I think the greatest appeal must be the setting, bolstered by pace. I've never read about this particular world before. We've got Depression-era America. Trains. The circus. Exotic animals. These things were new to me, and were fascinating to read about. The characters were also good, and mostly fleshed out, although they're not what I think about when I think about this book. (With the exception of Walter. I think Walter is the character I will carry with me now that the book is done. Poor guy. That broke my heart.) The writing style isn't fancy, but it's good and vivid. And somehow, all these elements combine to make a book that was completely compelling. I was in the moment when I read, and the pages flew. I don't think I hold it in the same esteem as many of its rabid fans, but for sheer readability and for my own reading experience, it was top-notch. Glad I finally got to it. Now maybe I should quit dragging my heels on The Help... ( )
  librarymeg | Mar 24, 2015 |
I thought Water for Elephants was a good book but not fantastic. I didn't really connect with the characters or feel immersed in the book's world like I have with other books I have read. However, it was interesting to read about what circus life was like around the time of the Depression. The cruelty to animals bothered me, and if you are really affected by rather graphic depictions of such cruelty, you should probably skip the book. I thought the chapters of the book told from the "old" Jacob's point of view were well-done and most likely right on the mark as to what the elderly must feel when they wish they could get around like they used to and have become dependent on others. ( )
  JWeyenberg | Mar 22, 2015 |
I don't see why it's so popular with a lot of readers.
because of that good-looking-vampire-guy in the movie maybe,ladies?
The plot couldn't be written more cliché. ( )
  payam-tommy | Mar 13, 2015 |
not sure why i read this book, really, except the title intrigued me, i suppose, and it seemed like something different to tweak me out of normalcy.

except that it didn't. the premise is kind of interesting but the execution was a bit banal for me. i liked the beginning a lot, though, and had it continued in that vein i would have given this 3 stars instead of 2.

don't get me wrong, the reading was easy and the story paced well but some things just didn't ring true for the time period- like the protagonist's and other characters's sensibilities about violence, in general, and domestic violence in particular.

the author also seems woefully ignorant about what paranoid schizophrenics are like, particularly when their suspicions are SUBSTANTIATED by what the author wrote! a husband suspects his wife and another man of having an affair and becomes violent only after showing a lot of restraint and their not answering him when he begins accusing them of things. they HAVE been having an affair even though he is wrong about just how far it's gone. the author takes care to show us this love affair and then to show everyone's reaction to the husband's outburst as "he's crazy to have thought ANYTHING was going on! what a bastard!" but he was right to think what he did and, while his actions are not OK, they are understandable especially within the context of the time period and setting.

it was at that point that i lost respect for the storyteller and the characters - who i was supposed to be rooting for.

and their reaction to him being correct about having an affair? well, i don't want to spoil it but it was over-the-top and less than morally upright. in the end, i had to side with the husband.

i also think that the resolution to the "problem" was a bit of a deus ex machina and a cop out by the author.

i finished the book out of sheer curiosity and found it to be very pulpy and naive. ( )
  keebrook | Mar 10, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 992 (next | show all)
It's a favorite of book clubs and reading groups, and is supposedly rife with parallels between the protagonist, Jacob Jankowski and Jacob, grandson of Abraham, in the Bible. I wish one of you would tell me what they are. They are not obvious to me, other than a cryptic "Jacob's ladder" parallel to the ladder on the train cars that give access to the roof and that will be important late in the story. What is obvious to me is this is a book about memory, something elephants are famous for and something humans are famous for treating as reliable when it isn't.
added by paradoxosalpha | editDaily Kos, Limelite (Jul 28, 2011)
WOW! This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for longer than I care to admit. Something about it drew me in enough to buy it but there always seemed to be something else that I would rather be reading so, it sat and sat and sat. I am so glad that I finally challenged myself to read it because it has to be one of my favourite books in a LOOOOOOONG time. What a great story.

While I know that the book is a work of fiction, it really did feel like I was right there, in the circus, with Jacob, Marlena and August. I could see each of them (and of course Jacob was as yummy as Edward ~Robert Pattinson~), I could touch the animals, hear the music and feel the crunch of the peanuts beneath my feet. I loved that each of the chapters started with a picture showing the history of the circus because it brought me to the right time frame in my mind. The movement between Jacob as a 90 (or 93) year old in a nursing home and Jacob as a man in his early 20's were seemless. In some novels past, the 'current' story seemed forced and very out of place but here, it was a welcome part of the story.

Overall, I feel like this is a book that anyone would enjoy. Whether you are an adult, a child, a tween, a senior, this book will delight you! It is a fast, fun read. Please pick it up and spend some time aboard the train with the 'Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth'.
At its finest, "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. But Gruen's prose is merely serviceable, and she hurtles through cataclysmic events, overstuffing her whiplash narrative with drama (there's an animal stampede, two murders and countless fights).
What goes on under the big top is nothing compared with the show backstage.
added by Shortride | editTime, Lev Grossman (Jul 16, 2006)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sara Gruenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, John RandolphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LeDoux, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manson,CharlesJacket Photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werner, Honijacket designsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I meant what I said, and I said what I meant...
An elephant's faithful--one hundred per cent!
--Theodor Seuss Geisel, Horton Hatches the Egg, 1940
For Bob, still my secret weapon
First words
I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.
Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook. (Prologue)
The idea for this book came unexpectedly: In early 2003 I was gearing up to write an entirely different book when the Chicago Tribune ran an article on Edward J. Kelty, a photographer who followed traveling circuses around America in the 1920s and '30s. (Author's Note)
Is where you’re from the place you’re leaving or where you have roots?
I wasn’t aware of dozing, but that’s how it goes these days. I seem to slip in and out of time and space.
With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Jacob Jankowski is left without money and family when his parents are killed suddenly in an automobile accident. He leaves veterinarian school right before he finishes his final exam and accidentally becomes the veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers Circus. There he meets Rosie the Elephant and Marlene, a beautiful (and married) performer in the circus.
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A novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932. When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.--From publisher description.… (more)

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3 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

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