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Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen
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Water for Elephants: A Novel (2006)

by Sara Gruen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
22,184105356 (4.08)1 / 820
  1. 91
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Pax_Biblio, starfishian)
  2. 83
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (LindsayGentles)
  3. 20
    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.
  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. 42
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (shesinplainview)
  6. 20
    Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (Pax_Biblio)
  7. 20
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (sturlington)
  8. 10
    The spangled road by Borden Deal (VictoriaPL)
  9. 21
    Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Though Gruen's story is fiction and Hillenbrand's journalistic nonfiction, both reveal relationships between humans and animals in the Great Depression's entertainment field. Each describes the backstage training, care, and abuse of performing animals and people in candid, engaging language.… (more)
  10. 10
    At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen (Eowyn1)
  11. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
  12. 21
    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (heidilove)
    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
  13. 21
    Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (PaperbackPirate)
    PaperbackPirate: circus
  14. 10
    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
  15. 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.
  16. 00
    One Good Dog by Susan Wilson (SATURNBEAR)
    SATURNBEAR: A great story of animals and people coming together and overcoming painful histories.
  17. 00
    Walking on Air by Pierre Delattre (cammykitty)
  18. 33
    Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg (Cecilturtle)
  19. 00
    Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Readers of Water for Elephants may enjoy reading this memoir of farm life during the Great Depression; though the experiences are rather different, Little Heathens offers a complementary view of the period.
  20. 11
    The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Hibou8)

(see all 28 recommendations)

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English (1,028)  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 (1,050)
Showing 1-5 of 1028 (next | show all)
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  MrsDoglvrs | Apr 24, 2016 |
This is a well written detailed book. Hence, I gave it a 4 star rating, even though I did not finish reading the book.

My problem was that I have seen the movie based on this book. I am sure they used the book for the screen play as it followed the book very closely. Sometimes a book is added value as you get into the head of the character but I did not find it so. I could predict the direction of the book with ease.

An excellent book but I would not recommend it if you have seen the movie. The converse is probably also true. ( )
  Lynxear | Apr 10, 2016 |
Though it may seem to be a boring story, this book is teeming with adventure and excitement. Every sentence made you feel as if you were right there in the circus, experiencing the same hardships that Jacob did. This is definitely not the novel that you can explain to others, as words don't do it justice. I extremely admired how the story flashed back between Jacobs current age reflecting on his younger days, yet it never made these flashbacks seem as if they were being told in the future. Every part of the novel had a jaw-dropping and exciting happening, making it not only an enjoyable novel to read but also an extremely captivating one. ( )
  pdenatale17 | Mar 31, 2016 |
I haven't read a book set in a circus since the Enid Blyton stuff I used to like at the age of 8. How different, then, is this circus - a depression-era vision of mud, poverty, treachery and violence. Just the hardest of lives, but with a strong thread of humanity running through it, as the narrator battles to improve animal welfare at a time when circuses with animals were not viewed as cruel or unacceptable.

I loved this book from start to finish - it is just so well written. Like the breasts in chapter 3, the author has a pleasant bounce to her writing. She can do grit, she can do romance, she can do humour (the search for a new Fat Lady was brilliant), and the glimpses of the protagonist as an old man living in a retirement home were incredibly perceptive. Just a brilliant book. ( )
  jayne_charles | Mar 30, 2016 |
I am glad I listened to this as an audio book. Narrators David LeDoux & John Randolph Jones were excellent and made the characters and animals come alive. Make sure your audiobook is unabridged because there is nothing in this book that could be eliminated.
Lisa on Amazon describes the book exactly as I would:
What a terrific read! Water for Elephants has been lauded as a "great pick for summer", but this book is so much more. It has a depth and a substance to it that you don't usually find in your typical "beach read". It's obvious that the author did her research into the time period (post-Depression America), and the subject matter (traveling circuses). According to the author's note at the end of the book, many of the compelling anecdotes in the story were based upon real events, culled from the diaries and personal histories of old-time circus performers. As a result, Water for Elephants is a novel that boasts the rare combination of being both entertaining and informative.
The main character is a cantankerous, still-sharp 93-year-old man, and his frustration at being trapped in an old man's body is palpable. The story of his incredible life and adventures with the Benzini Brothers circus unfolds in a way that is emotionally wrenching, and yet flashes of good humor pervade throughout. The characters are richly drawn, and even the animals are given complex personalities that make them a pivotal part of the story. There is something in the novel for everyone: it is equal parts adventure, mystery, fictional memoir, love story, and historical account.
I highly recommend this book! ( )
  GeneHunter | Mar 13, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 1028 (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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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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)
Quotations
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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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.

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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.

AR Level 4.4, 14 pts
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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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