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Water for elephants : a novel by Sara Gruen

Water for elephants : a novel (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Sara Gruen

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
24,360110085 (4.07)1 / 874
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)
Title:Water for elephants : a novel
Authors:Sara Gruen
Info:Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007.
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical romance

Work details

Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen (2006)

  1. 91
    Geek Love: A Novel 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. 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)
  5. 20
    Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (Pax_Biblio)
  6. 20
    At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen (Eowyn1)
  7. 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.
  8. 20
    The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb 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. 10
    Holy Fools by Joanne Harris (ecleirs24)
  10. 10
    The spangled road by Borden Deal (VictoriaPL)
  11. 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.
  12. 10
    The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day (sibyllacumaea)
  13. 21
    The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (heidilove)
    heidilove: If the power of story compels you, you'll like this as well.
  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
    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.
  16. 00
    Spangle by Gary Jennings (Cecrow)
  17. 00
    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (sturlington)
  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 (1,074)  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 (1,098)
Showing 1-5 of 1074 (next | show all)
A very enjoyable and engrossing read. My only disappointment was that I found Marlena, the main female character, somewhat shallow. She has two men falling over themselves for her, but other than the fact she's apparently a natural with horses you never learn anything about her. A shame when Gruen manages to give the villain depth. Still, a book worth checking out. ( )
  Fardo | Oct 15, 2019 |
I thought this was a great story, brimming with life. The split narration between the older Jacob and himself as a young man was superb, although I must say I liked the 93 year old better. The bizarre occurences lent a bright humour to this romantic adventure and gave me a case of the giggles. ( )
  carliwi | Sep 23, 2019 |
Wonderful story! Don't start it unless you have lots of time. I couldn't putti down. ( )
  steller0707 | Aug 25, 2019 |
Ultimately a little too pat - Jacob was just a little too good, a little flat, and with the exception of the wee twist at the end, most plot points could be seen coming. However, I was engrossed by the circus details for nearly three-quarters of the book and was tickled at times by the elderly Jacob. Should make a fine movie. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
I enjoyed the story and characters. A fast read that kept me turning the pages. ( )
  Robinsonstef | Jul 10, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 1074 (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 (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sara Gruenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Jones, John RandolphNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LeDoux, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Werner, Honijacket designsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
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)
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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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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An edition of this book was published by HighBridge.

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