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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
21,769102461 (4.08)1 / 808
  1. 81
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Pax_Biblio, starfishian)
  2. 83
    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. 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.
  6. 10
    The spangled road by Borden Deal (VictoriaPL)
  7. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
  8. 32
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (shesinplainview)
  9. 10
    At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen (Eowyn1)
  10. 21
    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (heidilove)
    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
  11. 10
    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
  12. 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.
  13. 21
    Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (PaperbackPirate)
    PaperbackPirate: circus
  14. 00
    Walking on Air by Pierre Delattre (cammykitty)
  15. 11
    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)
  16. 00
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (sturlington)
  17. 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.
  18. 00
    One Good Dog by Susan Wilson (SATURNBEAR)
    SATURNBEAR: A great story of animals and people coming together and overcoming painful histories.
  19. 00
    The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson (joririchardson)
  20. 11
    Madame Zee by Pearl Luke (bucketyell)

(see all 28 recommendations)

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English (999)  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 (1,021)
Showing 1-5 of 999 (next | show all)
This is an excellent book. The author's ways with words, made me see the story as I was reading it. As I am getting older, I understand the 93 year old Jacob's sentiments exactly. ( )
  love2cook | Aug 21, 2015 |

I have had Water for Elephants on my 'To Read' list for sometime but I finally delved in after I read Gruen's 'At the Water's Edge'. While I have seen some reviews compare the two I found the two books very different and loved them both. It's odd to think that a book can be considered colorful as you are reading black and white pages but every time I opened this book and started reading I saw vivid colors and exciting scenes which is completely unexpected. Maybe the circus vibe rubbed off or simply her descriptions were too good to be true but I found this story completely beautiful as far as aesthetics.
The relationships that were formed through out were touching and completely believable and I found a significant tie to Walter/Kinko. While I sometimes found Gruen's writing too be unnecessarily graphic and sexual in some places throughout the story I felt I was able to get past it. I loved the ending by far more than any point during the book and I urge readers to focus on Mr. Jankowsky, the old gentleman in the home, and the story he tells as I feel it is equally if not more important that young Jacob's story.
  SaraEllen | Aug 20, 2015 |
I’ve been wanting to read this book for the longest time. I am so happy that I’ve finally read it. It is such a good read. How the animals were treated broke my heart but I was expecting that going into it. While I was reading it, I did not want to put it down. I absolutely loved Rosie, Bobo and Queenie. However, my favorite character by far was Walter.

Even though I can’t think of anything I disliked about Water for Elephants, I don’t think I can say that I loved it. Although, the more I think about the book, the more I realize just how much I enjoyed it. I don’t really know what else I can say. I am so confused about how I feel about this book. One minute I think I just liked it (3 stars), the next I think I really liked it (4 stars). This is a hard one for me to rate and review, but I’ve done my best. :)

I haven’t seen the movie yet and I’m not sure if I want to watch it. Have you watched it? Should I give it a try at some point? ( )
  TheBookHoarder | Aug 19, 2015 |
Well written story about the not so pretty reality of the circus. ( )
  nurse73 | Aug 14, 2015 |
Very satisfying story. The abuse was not too descriptive as to turn me off or ruin my day, and the resolution is complete and happy-making (I really like this word, coined by Scot Westerfeld of the Uglies trilogy). It was mostly a voyeuristic experience into what may have been the type of life lived by circus workers during the Great Depression, but I'm not sure how much of it was accurate. One thing I do take away from this novel is a new appreciation for the elderly, as the injustice they face in nursing homes (good ones, that is) became apparent when before I had not thought about such things. It's a complicated matter, and this book portrayed the ever-changing parent-child relationship dynamic in a new way. That is what I lay in bed pondering long after I closed the cover.

I started listening to the audio version, and when I hit the midway point, I realized that the audio version is too slow-going. I wasn't in my car alone enough (it was certainly NOT appropriate for my 9-year-old to hear), so I read the last half to speed up my progress. I mention this because there are some definite benefits to each version. The audio version is read by two actors, and the one who narrates old Jacob is so excellent that I think it hooked me while I may not have been interested enough in the story at first to keep going with the print version. I highly recommend the cd because of this. The other narrator was not so great, and I often disagreed with his selected tone of voice for different lines. The printed book, on the other hand, includes some archived circus photos to complement the chapters that I felt enhanced the story. I feel fortunate to have experienced both formats.

Thanks to Shannon & Bona for recommending the book to me!

( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 10, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 999 (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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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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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