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Water for Elephants (2006)

by Sara Gruen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
24,992111687 (4.07)1 / 882
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)
  1. 91
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Pax_Biblio, starfishian)
  2. 94
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (LindsayGentles)
  3. 30
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (sturlington)
  4. 20
    At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen (Eowyn1)
  5. 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.
  6. 31
    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)
  7. 20
    Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (Pax_Biblio)
  8. 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.
  9. 21
    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (heidilove)
    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
  10. 10
    The spangled road by Borden Deal (VictoriaPL)
  11. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
  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. 10
    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
  14. 10
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (sturlington)
  15. 00
    One Good Dog by Susan Wilson (SATURNBEAR)
    SATURNBEAR: A great story of animals and people coming together and overcoming painful histories.
  16. 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.
  17. 00
    Spangle by Gary Jennings (Cecrow)
  18. 00
    Walking on Air by Pierre Delattre (cammykitty)
  19. 11
    Madame Zee by Pearl Luke (Yells)
  20. 00
    The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson (joririchardson)

(see all 30 recommendations)

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English (1,088)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (4)  French (3)  Norwegian (2)  Finnish (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (1,112)
Showing 1-5 of 1088 (next | show all)
Good read on how life in the circus was through the 90 year old man
  RogReg | Jul 9, 2020 |
Laughter, tears, excitement this book has it all ( )
  lilwolfmisty | Jul 9, 2020 |
I only liked this so-so. I loved the depression-era circus backdrop, but the actual plot was very boring (love triangle? boring....). I actually wished there had been more elephant in the book ( )
  AshleyVanessaGG | Jul 6, 2020 |
Interesting structure, the book starts off with the defining scene from the circus, then alternates between Jacob's life when he was young and working as a vet in the circus, and Jacob when he was old living in an old-aged home. Finally, it ends beautifully when Jacob was re-employed by the circus at the ripe old age of 93. Also interesting is the subject matter of traveling circuses; it is original and coupled with a love story, the book is a compulsive read. ( )
  siok | May 21, 2020 |
I almost stopped reading this book before I got into the heart of the story because the first 75 pages was not at all what I expected and was much more explicit that I was prepared for. Once the Gruen got into the actual story, it was a beautiful story. The details of circus life were amazing - not necessarily pretty or something that made me want to run out and join the circus - but amazing. ( )
  melrailey | Apr 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 1088 (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)
 
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 (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gruen, Saraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abelsen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Arduini, Adasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, John RandolphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LeDoux, DavidNarratorsecondary 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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Information from the French Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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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.

AR Level 4.4, 14 pts
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Average: (4.07)
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HighBridge Audio

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge Audio.

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HighBridge

An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

» Publisher information page

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