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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
21,223100566 (4.08)1 / 781
  1. 71
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Pax_Biblio, starfishian)
  2. 72
    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 spangled road by Borden Deal (VictoriaPL)
  6. 21
    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (heidilove)
    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
  7. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
  8. 21
    Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (PaperbackPirate)
    PaperbackPirate: circus
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 10
    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
  12. 00
    The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson (joririchardson)
  13. 11
    Madame Zee by Pearl Luke (bucketyell)
  14. 00
    One Good Dog by Susan Wilson (SATURNBEAR)
    SATURNBEAR: A great story of animals and people coming together and overcoming painful histories.
  15. 00
    Hottentot Venus by Barbara Chase-Riboud (jennyellen22)
  16. 00
    Walking on Air by Pierre Delattre (cammykitty)
  17. 11
    The Catch Trap by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Hibou8)
  18. 00
    The Story of Forgetting: A Novel by Stefan Merrill Block (terrybanker)
  19. 12
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (shesinplainview)
  20. 23
    Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg (Cecilturtle)

(see all 24 recommendations)

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English (983)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  Norwegian (2)  Danish (2)  French (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Finnish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  All languages (1,003)
Showing 1-5 of 983 (next | show all)
This book is amazing. ( )
  Ambo_O | Oct 21, 2014 |
This was a really good book. Took me awhile to get through but it was worth it. Definitely recommend it for someone who is just looking for a new good book to delve into ( )
  Angelic55blonde | Oct 10, 2014 |
I loved this book. There aren't enough good things that could be said about it. My review that I'm going to add to my blog will be more detailed. ( )
  trishaj | Oct 7, 2014 |
A vast improvement from Riding Lessons. ( )
  strongasanoak | Sep 25, 2014 |
The Basics

The story follows Jacob Jankowski, ninety-three years young and living in a nursing home. He is haunted by memories of his twenty-three-year-old self and the circumstances that dictated he had no choice but to runaway with the circus. That circus being simultaneously the best and worst thing that ever happened to him.

My Thoughts

I love circus stories. I’m discovering this, this book being part of that discovery. There’s something, even sans magic or fantasy elements, that is very fantastical about running away with the circus. About Jacob’s story and how his life did a complete one-eighty and resulted in his being swept up in what was an alien world for him. That’s one of the things this book does well, illustrating the ways that being part of that world for Jacob was like traveling to a foreign country, having to learn a new language and new customs.

Another thing I want to emphasize that this book has going for it: a good sense of humor. I think that’s where the whimsy comes through. Gruen isn’t afraid to make fun even during a serious moment, and it gives the book a lightness that is prevalent throughout. No, it isn’t Shakespeare. It doesn’t need to be. It’s a feel good book that does its job: it makes you feel good.

I will say that there is one thing that brought the experience down for me. Unconvincing romance. The entertainment industry has become saturated and infatuated with love at first sight. That’s a romantic notion, I can’t fault them there. What I can fault this book for in particular is that characters have to speak to each other eventually, and these two don’t really. And when they speak, they have to talk about things that make sense of why they love one another. The most that can be said is Jacob suffered from a severe hero complex that made him feel obligated to rescue Marlena at every turn, but otherwise they had little in common that justified their relationship.

The great thing being that the book is not so obsessed with the romance that it doesn’t have more to offer. Rosie the elephant, for instance, was an adorable highlight. Most of the animals were, in fact. Walter and Camel were a couple of my favorite side characters that got a good deal of time devoted to them. August is a pretty interesting villain. Things that make for a balanced book that I personally enjoyed.

Final Rating

4/5 ( )
  Nickidemus | Sep 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 983 (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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No descriptions found.

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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Average: (4.08)
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