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Sara Gruen

Author of Water for Elephants

12+ Works 34,497 Members 1,580 Reviews 38 Favorited

About the Author

Sara Gruen was born in Vancouver, Canada in 1969. Before becoming a full-time fiction author, she worked as a technical writer. She has written several novels including At the Water's Edge, Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes. Her novel, Water for Elephants, appeared on the New York Times show more Bestseller List for more than 4 years and was adapted into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz in 2011. (Bowker Author Biography) show less


Works by Sara Gruen

Associated Works

Water for Elephants [2011 film] (2011) — Afterword — 189 copies


1930s (195) 2007 (113) 2008 (103) 2011 (98) adult (84) aging (182) animals (413) audio (86) audiobook (104) bonobos (79) book club (217) circus (1,554) circus life (83) contemporary fiction (95) depression (147) depression era (113) ebook (112) elephant (73) elephants (377) fiction (2,711) Great Depression (497) historical (151) historical fiction (982) horses (115) Kindle (112) literature (72) love (228) love story (96) novel (232) nursing homes (73) old age (78) own (135) read (337) romance (525) Scotland (132) to-read (1,235) trains (75) unread (103) USA (78) WWII (124)

Common Knowledge

Canada (birth)
USA (naturalized)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Places of residence
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
London, Ontario, Canada
Asheville, North Carolina, USA
Grayslake, Illinois, USA
Carleton University
technical writer
Gruen, Bob (husband)
Puffett, Kathryn (mother)
Bailey, Terence (father)
Short biography
Sara Gruen (born 1969 in Vancouver is an author with dual Canadian and U.S. citizenship. Her books deal greatly with animals and she is a supporter of numerous charitable organizations that support animals and wildlife. She is a 2007 recipient of the Alex Awards.

Gruen was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. She grew up in London, Ontario, and attended Carleton University in Ottawa to get a degree in English Literature. She continued to live in Ottawa for 10 years after graduation.

Gruen moved to the United States from Ottawa in 1999 in order to take a technical writing job. When she was laid off two years later, she decided to try writing fiction. Gruen is an animal lover; both her first novel, Riding Lessons, and her second novel, Flying Changes, involve horses. Gruen's third book, the 1930s circus drama Water for Elephants, was initially turned down by her publisher at the time, Avon Books; as a result, Gruen was forced to find another publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. It went on to become a New York Times bestseller and is now available in 45 languages and as a 2011 film adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, and Robert Pattinson. Her fourth novel, Ape House, centers around the Bonobo ape and was sold to Spiegel & Grau on the basis of a 12-page summary. Ape House is published by Two Roads Books. Her fifth novel, At the Water's Edge, was published in 2015.



Group Read (August): Water for Elephants in 2014 Category Challenge (August 2014)


“I’m ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.”

This opener is a classic, an interlude to an old man’s reminiscing of his youth. You’d think, that someone who can’t correctly remember his age, would at best, have blurred memories of his past. But Jacob Jankowski is made of sterner stuff. He may forget the name of the nurse in his old-age home, he may not quite remember his grandchildren or their children, but memories of his youth are as fresh as if they happened yesterday.

Jacob was studying to be a vet when an accident leaves him both orphaned and penniless. In a state of delirium, Jacob begins walking and keeps walking, away from the civilization into some unknown future. And that unknown future brings him to a train, that in its many carriages, carries the magic of an entirely different world, for on this train, travels a circus.

And the drama unravels. There are performers and the workmen, freaks and animals. All the typical circus things. There’s even a gorgeous, Marlena, who is the star performer of the show, who makes her performances come alive with the animals she works with. She’s married to the equestrian director August, the sometimes charming, sometimes abusive man. And of course, Jacob falls for this woman.

What makes this book superlative is that it isn’t just a romance, at least not just between Jacob and Marlena. It is a sketch of the human soul – of how human some animals can be and of how beastly some men.

Sara Gruen’s characters are all strong, heroes and villains alike. But its the side characters whose story adds depth to the emotions. Kinko and Camel, the sort of “roommates” of Jacob or Queenie and Bobo, the dog and the chimp who in their animal-ish sort of way make your heart swell. And of course, Rosie, the elephant. For me, she was the star of this book. Every time August lashed out her or Jacob fed her whiskey to soothe her wounds, were the times that had me welling up.

“With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.”
And there is that secret, right towards the end, that the author throws at you. Of course, that’s not what you expected, but you hoped all along while reading the book, that something like that would end up happening.

In Sara Gruen’s own words,

“Life is the most spectacular show on earth”
…and that is exactly what she shows you through this spectacular story about a circus.

Believe it or not, Sara Gruen had never actually been to a circus in her life, before she started writing this book! Surely, you wonder then, where did the inspiration to write this story come from? The author says it all started with an article in the Chicago Tribune in 2003 on Edward Kelty, a travelling circus photographer who travelled across the U.S. following circus trains during the 1920s and 30s. She was so fascinated with the premise and the photographs accompanying the article and those in two other books, that she dropped the idea of the novel she was actually writing, to start one on a circus instead.

Sara Gruen’s favorite character in her book was Rosie (just like mine!). She loved the elephant almost enough to belive that Rosie was real.

Sara Gruen could visualize strongly how her characters would look like and behave if they were real. When asked in an interview who she would like to see cast in the movie, she chose Scarlett Johansson as Marlena (eventually played by Reese Witherspoon), Jim Carrey as August (played by Christoph Waltz). Danny DeVito would have made a great Uncle Al, according to Sara Gruen, but the actor to finally bag that role was no one. This character was eliminated in the movie version.

The film adaptation hit the screens in 2011.
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sanz57 | 1,184 other reviews | May 31, 2024 |
I'm marking this "read" for now, although I've only gotten to page 150. It's a struggle to read--I am bored with the characters and plot, the language, everything. It's nothing new (so far).
prairiemage | 1,184 other reviews | May 29, 2024 |
I LOVED this book! Now, granted, it has taken me almost a year to finish. But I have good excuses! I added it to my shelves in May of 2008, and then I didn't actually get it until spring of 2009. I picked it up then and started immediately, and then my life was interrupted by... well, life. Without getting into the messy details, the book was loaned out twice, lost once, halted several times, and put on the back burner more than I care to admit. I had a tough time picking it back up when I was able to do so, as the effect was that the story (for me) had become choppy and confusing. And then in July of 2009, I purchased the unabridged audio version for my mom, who was spending a lot of time in the hospital. I loaded it onto my iPod for her, and she listened to it within a few days, and adored it; she said it was one of the most enchanting stories she'd ever read (and she was a voracious reader, so that endorsement says a lot). After she died, I decided I would give it a try on audiobook, and perhaps I could finally "put it to bed," as the saying goes.

Well, I am SO glad I did so! I started the story over, and was completely enchanted, just as my mom said I would be. Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski, who is one of the most endearing characters I have ever encountered. The story begins when he is "...ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other," and goes back in time to recount Jacob's time with The Benzini Brothers Circus. At times heartbreakingly sad, at others joyfully promising, Water for Elephants spares no detail of Jacob's absolutely fascinating tale. I laughed out loud, I sobbed uncontrollably. I cheered Jacob on, and I suffered when he suffered. There was a time when things were so bad for him that I thought perhaps reading this book was a mistake after all; how would I get through so much sadness? But Ms. Gruen brings this tale to a deliciously satisfying end, in a way completely befitting of such a wonderful character.

This book was awesome, and I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys captivating and romantic storytelling! I only wish I had the opportunity to discuss it with my mom.
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kdegour23 | 1,184 other reviews | May 29, 2024 |
A quick and entertaining read; very interesting when dealing with the bonobos themselves, but the human characters were pretty hit & miss.

Abcdarian | 149 other reviews | May 18, 2024 |



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