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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Water for Elephants (2006)

by Sara Gruen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
21,461101661 (4.09)1 / 794
  1. 71
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    Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster (Smiler69)
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    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
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    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.
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    PaperbackPirate: circus
  9. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
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    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
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    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.
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    SATURNBEAR: A great story of animals and people coming together and overcoming painful histories.

(see all 25 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)
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Review Let's get the bad stuff out of the way so I can get on with telling you why you need to read this book, like yesterday.
 
First, if you haven't read WATER FOR ELEPHANTS yet, SKIP THE PROLOGUE! For your own enjoyment, do not read the first 3 or 4 pages. No lie, it's the climax of the entire book. Why the author and publisher thought that beginning the book with the end of the book was a good idea I'll never understand, but it's the equivalent of SE7EN beginning with Brad Pitt shooting Kevin Spacey, or Jaye Davidson dropping his drawers in the opening scenes of THE CRYING GAME to reveal his flippety-flop and marble bag. I wished someone had warned me. Oh well, what's done is done.
 
If I hadn't've loved the journey Jacob Jankowski takes in this novel as much as I did, the ending-stealing-prologue would have made me want to throttle a baby panda. Luckily, the rest of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is nearly perfect. This is the first book I've ever read where I didn't find a single error. Not one. My hat goes off to Sara Gruen's editing team. The plot is tight, almost too tight; so well plotted that the author kinda shows her hand by building the reveals. Strangely enough, this book reminded me of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, and I'm sure you'll understand when you read it.
 
Sara Gruen also excels in character development. I adored every person I came across in this book. Jacob is an entertaining and sympathetic narrator. August is a true sleazeball, but, even though I hated him, I felt sorry for him, too; he really did come off as mentally unstable, which made me believe that he couldn't be held 100% responsible for his actions. Still, he got what he deserved in the end. Walter (aka Kinko) was my favorite character in the book; he's one of those supporting roles that you come to love more than the main character, at least he was for me. Barbara stood out as another strong role from a smaller member of the cast, having been so expertly drawn by the author as to be unforgettable. Uncle Al was devilish, but I could understand his motivations; he was living in the shadow of Ringling, and nobody enjoys being second best. Camel's fate was probably the saddest part of the book for me because he was the only one who had no control over what happened to him. And the list goes on and on and on... I probably feel the same way about this cast as most Potter-Heads feel about the students and staff of Hogwarts. 
 
Lastly, I've heard nothing but bad things about the movie so I doubt I will ever sully my memory of this book's characters by watching it. I will also say that the blurb on the front of the Algonquin Paperback version is horribly misleading. The reviewer from Parade magazine couldn't have read the same book I just read. Here's the blurb: "Gritty, sensual, and charged with dark secrets involving love, murder, and a majestic, mute heroine." WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is not a dark murder mystery. Far from it. This book is beautifully written, and gives one a wistful feeling; it made this man-child want to run out and join the circus. It sure as shit was not sensual. There's two sex scenes: one involving drunken and raunchy sex, and the other concerning coitus described in laughably maudlin prose, with silly dialogue like "Let me be inside you." There is murder... kinda/sorta... but it's all off camera and soon forgotten, aside from the spoiler in the prologue. There's absolutely no mystery or secrets, but that doesn't detract from the story. And that "majestic, mute heroine"  actually refers to an elephant who's only in about a quarter of the book. 
 
In summation, this book will make you wish for the hard life of a carny as well as a pet elephant. I took half a star off for the spoiler-y prologue and the goofy-ass sex scene, but this book is just damn entertaining, and probably the best book I've read this year.  ( )
  Edward.Lorn | Feb 13, 2015 |
I don't think words are beautiful enough to describe this book. I was in love with this from the get go. Throughout this book, I caught myself smiling as I read... full on cheesy smile, as I was totally entranced by the world I was lost in. I also found tears in my eyes over and over- both in joy and sadness. This book tore through me.

I can't really review this beyond saying that Water for Elephants was magical. If you have yet to read this (which I highly doubt, considering I am one of the last people on earth to read it), stop everything and go start it now.
This is one of those novels that I wish someone had thrust this one on me so I could have experienced the beauty that this story is earlier. ( )
  littlebirdreads | Feb 10, 2015 |
A lovely story. Jacob is old and in a nursing home and his reminiscing about his days working for a circus. We go throught the behind the scenes of what happens to the animals, the workers and also the beginning of a love story for Jacob.

For me, it was a hard to put down book, well written, Jacob was a great character that by the end of the book, you want a happy ending. It's a romance, love triangle and a good vs bad novel. Worth a read and eventually a re-read. ( )
  dom76 | Feb 4, 2015 |
I absolutely loved this book. I enjoyed reading through the eyes of a male character, slipping back into his early memories of the circus while on his own in the aged care home. I found that I could really visualise the scenes throughout the book. There's an ill fated romance. The good guy is great, the bad guy is despicable and I was more surprised at the end than I expected to be. Despite the male perspective, this is still a girls book. The male character is a little too perfectly painted to fit the ideal romantic lead for men to really appreciate, but I honestly didn't think about it like that until after I had finished the book. Robert Pattinson wasn't how I pictured Jacob, despite reading the version with him on the cover. I imagined an young ex footballer, not so lanky. Oh and a red head. I might not watch the movie in case it spoils it for me, but you should definitely read the book. ( )
  Karyn_Ainsworth | Dec 29, 2014 |
Truthfully, I did not enjoy reading Water for Elephants as much as I had expected to. I personally thought that the characters were flat and dull, and lacked development throughout the entire book. Additionally, I believe that the writing and prose could have been richer and more colorful, in order to better captivate the reader. It was fluffy in a sense; it was a quick-read, easy to digest, and a book that could be read in between heavier literature. The idea that Sara Gruen attempted to convey was interesting, but unfortuantely, the book itself was lacking depth. ( )
  lifesize | Dec 14, 2014 |
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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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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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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