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Water for Elephants: A Novel by Sara Gruen
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Water for Elephants: A Novel (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Sara Gruen (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
26,018113787 (4.07)1 / 888
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)
Member:jennamozingo
Title:Water for Elephants: A Novel
Authors:Sara Gruen (Author)
Info:Algonquin Books (2007), 368 pages
Collections:Favorites
Rating:****
Tags:None

Work details

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006)

  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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» See also 888 mentions

English (1,108)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (4)  Portuguese (Portugal) (3)  French (3)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (2)  German (2)  Finnish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Italian (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (1,134)
Showing 1-5 of 1108 (next | show all)
Loved this book, ( )
  Gmomaj | Jul 28, 2021 |
between 2.5 and 3 stars. this is really good for the historical bits and the insight into what it was like working with a train circus in 1931. i had never really thought about how maybe there weren't too many zoos back then, and so the circus had far more animals than i thought they would - chimps, lions, tigers, panthers, polar bears, giraffes, elephants, horses, llamas, yaks, camels, hyenas, orangutans. we only read about the mistreatment of a couple of them, but i can only imagine that all of them suffered such abuse, even if just to be taught that they weren't the alpha animal when the trainer was around. that was the hardest part of the book for me, reading of the way august would hurt rosie the elephant. it was written so matter-of-factly, i'm curious as to the research she did into the animal abuse.

the detail in the way the circus operates, and the people who work it (as well as the class distinction between the performers and the workers) was pretty fascinating. jacob has to learn the language, the characters, the inner running of a circus, and so we are exposed and learn along with him. circuses don't exist like this anymore (thank goodness) so this serves as a great peek into the circus life.

generally speaking, when the writing is about the circus and is showing us the historical context, this is well written and interesting. the romance bit (which is a major plot point, unfortunately) dragged it down considerably for me (it was both less interesting and the dialogue between them was significantly less well written) and i felt like there were other ways to move the story in the direction that storyline led us.

but i do think i'll find myself thinking of the circus aspect for a long time, so i'm leaning this to 3 stars instead of 2.5. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Jul 23, 2021 |
Well written story, moving back and forth between present (aging man in nursing home) and past (love story arising in a travelling circus.) Superb ending. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
Adult fiction. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
This book takes place during the Great depression in the heyday of circus shows. It's about a traveling circus in the 1930s and has some very shocking insights into this life. A truly good read. ( )
  pamirick | Jun 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 1108 (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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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.

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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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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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