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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
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Water for Elephants (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Sara Gruen, David LeDoux (Reader), John Randolph Jones (Reader)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
21,370101263 (4.08)1 / 789
Member:laur04
Title:Water for Elephants
Authors:Sara Gruen
Other authors:David LeDoux (Reader), John Randolph Jones (Reader)
Info:HighBridge Company (2006), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:None

Work details

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)

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English (989)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  French (2)  Norwegian (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Finnish (2)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (1,010)
Showing 1-5 of 989 (next | show all)
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 |
This is a wonderful classic that must be read. Thought provoking, upsetting sometimes. However, I found Raskolnikov to be a thoroughly unlikeable character. Found myself cheering when he got his punishment
  scot2 | Nov 18, 2014 |
This was a bookclub read. I nearly rejected it on the grounds of its cover, and had I been in a shop I would never have picked it up. But turning it over and reading the blurb, I thought – this could be good. And so it proved.

Jacob Jankowski is about to sit his final veterinary exams at Cornell. It is a solid career in the middle of the Depression, and Jacob has a job at his father’s practice to look forward to. But he is called from class to discover his parents have been killed – and all their savings have gone into his college education. He is bereaved and homeless. He runs, leaping onto the first freight train he finds. And thus he finds the circus, a circus in need of a vet for its animals. A real-life dirty, gritty, mixed up circus full of mixed-up people – including Jacob.

The story of Jacob’s circus life is punctuated by the nonagenarian Jacob fighting for his freedom in the care home. And railing against another man’s claim that he once carried water for elephants in a circus.

That claim is never sorted out, but I think we know it’s untrue. Ms Gruen paints finely observed portraits of both Depression-era circus life and current-era old age. The personalities are sharply defined yet easy to get involved with. Each character rings true, their motivations, their fears, the simple practicalities of everyday life when freedoms are restricted. Life is often violent and sometimes brutal. And sometimes human kindness wins through. It’s an engrossing book that I couldn’t wait to get back to.

Rich, thrilling and beautifully described, it’s one to enjoy and savour – and re-read. 5 stars, although it really does need a different cover.
( )
  Jemima_Pett | Nov 11, 2014 |
The Notebook set in a 1920's circus, the concept of the novel seems like a solid formula, combining an enduring-love story (often a winning theme in books) and a subculture which people hear about and are intrigued by and yet knows nothing about (similar to how The Sopranos using mobster violence as a backdrop to the 2000's American milieu). In short, the setting conjures up the idea of illusion and grandeur against a backdrop of the Great Depression (I am probably crediting the book with too much depth by wondering if August is a personification of this façade). However, the novel only explored these themes very superficially and focussed on the unconvincing, sweeping romance between two one-dimensional characters, Jacob and Marlena (he the Ivy-League almost-graduate whose parents died prompting him to run away to the circus and barely think about/grieve for them, she the not-without-reason unhappily married performer who has the penchant of showing how unhappy her marriage is around Jacob). The insights into the backstage of circus life were interesting yet rare - the hierarchy, slang, community living on a train, etc. (Side research: The Ringling circus' train is a mile long! A mile! You can probably get an echo if you position the carriages right!)

The novel is interspersed with the day-to-day minutiae of nonagenarian Jacob in a nursing home, with his recount of his runaway time in the circus triggered by the news of a circus coming to town in the present day. For all the importance of the elephant to the plot and title, Rosie appeared only sporadically and only ever to be mistreated or show how playful she is which of course endears her to Jacob and the reader. Despite being a veterinarian to a menagerie of exotic animals, the relationship between Jacob and the animals were not fully developed, abandoned in favour of the one developing between him and Marlena. The reader seems to be expected to fill in the gap from Jacob having to take care of all these animals to overnight being the one all the animals adored because nobody in a hundred-plus person crew of circus has ever showed any of these animals love. Nobody. Fair enough, just look what happened the only person (Walter-Queenie) other than Jacob who really showed love for an animal.

Only the playful-in-very-few-scenes Rosie and curmudgeon old-Jacob saved this book from being just bearable (not the ending though, got a little Jonas Jonasson there, nor the eyerollingly obvious way the old-Jacob keeps referring to his kids by names and his wife by "my wife" to give the impression that since the beginning of the book set up the implication that Marlena killed August - nice twist by the by, undone when later in the book, Marlena sews the matching pink sequin set for Rosie - and Jacob claims to have never talked about it, he must have married some other woman? C'mon, this is not an episode of How I Met My Second Choice. Give the readers a little credit, the wife is clearly Marlena or else she would have been referred to by name already.). It is a fast read but could have done with some more detailed character-building. (two stars off altogether for the lack of characterisation and convincing relationships) ( )
  kitzyl | Nov 7, 2014 |
I listened to this book on tape and have to say I am not sure I would have enjoyed it as much just reading it as I did listening to it. The readers really brought a LOT of life to the story. ( )
  AMKee | Oct 24, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 989 (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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