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Book Name: Water For Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen

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Overall Rating: (4.28/5) View all reviews (total 105 reviews)

Over 10,000,000 copies in print worldwide #1 New York Times Bestseller A Los Angeles Times Bestseller A Wall Street Journal Bestseller A Newsday Favorite Book of 2006 A USA Today Bestseller A Major Motion Picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz Jacob Janowski's luck had run out--orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was the Great Depression and for Jacob the circus was both his salvation and a living hell. There he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but brutal animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this group of misfits was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.


Now I lay me down to sleep

by "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn

I am continually puzzled by the publishing industry's "prizes." This book takes up an astonishing amount of shelf space in book stores. Cover to cover there is nothing in it. It is like reading a cut and paste book. The characters are thin, flavorless, cliched, sleep-inducing. The same with the dialogue. I am still trying to determine what the author's purpose was, unless it was to bore us to tears (those would be the only tears shed). I felt like it was written by an automaton, someone who does not care about the craft of writing but thinks she is precious. There is no strength to the story or the sentences. I actually felt insulted by this drivel.Read The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies. Now there is a circus story you won't forget.

Amazing - Couldn't put it down!

by AAH1234 "AAH"

This book was absolutely wonderful. Two chapters in, I knew it was going to be one of my favorite books I have ever read.. and it is. I could not put this book down! I definitely recommend it.

Riveting, Absorbing, Excellent!

by Ace

Jacob's life takes a drastic turn when his parents die. Stripped of everything he owns, everything familiar to him, all the comforts of his college and family life that he took for granted, he leaves his old life behind, jumps a train that turns out to be a circus train, and enters a totally new, different world. A circus is fun, right? Not behind the scenes, in this book. Jacob, a young adult, naive, still a virgin, unused to such a hard life on the road, confronts danger, murder, hatred, love, callous human viciousness, more danger, and finds friends and allies (not all of them human) in the unlikeliest of places.The story is told in turn, by the nonogenarian Jacob now in a nursing home, and at other times, by the twenty-something Jacob working at the circus and trying not to get killed -- mostly at the hands of his fellow-human-associates. Every chapter is an adventure, held my attention and took turns gladdening, saddening and surprising me.The circus animals also get into the act in this book and the author's sensitive rendering and treatment of them makes them all the more vivid, as "supporting actors", Circus "employees", and fellow participants in the intrigue and action.A masterful ending -- leaving the reader with hope, glee and wonder. The very informative afterword by the author left me wanting to do my own research into this fascinating subject of the Circus.

A brilliant work of fiction

by AcornMan

Much has already been said about this book, so I'll throw my five stars into the mix and keep it brief by saying this is an absolutely delightful story. I would definitely place it toward the top of my list of fictional tales I have thoroughly enjoyed.

The Circus Oh My!

by A. Dennis

Wow, where to begin. I literally just finished the novel, and was left with the most beautiful feeling of what it means to capture the essence of humanity. Yes! This is something you don't experience too often, and when you do you want to hold onto the feeling and never let go. I'm not going to give a plot summary, or play by play- that's what the product description and other reviews are for. This is a reaction review. I never really wanted to read this novel when it was all the rage. I would walk past it as I scanned the bookshelves, and ignore it on the best-seller list. However, when I saw the 3,000 reviews and all the positive stars mounting up, I knew people must be onto something. That coupled with my Kindle Fire Christmas present, and this is free in the Kindle Lender's Library.Where to start? From the moment you start reading, you are sucked right into Jacob's world, and the world of the circus. You find yourself running alongside Jacob, and taking part of the daily activities of the circus. The characters are highly developed, and you hate, love, and grow with each one of them. The author takes time to even develop the animals which I feel helps readers bond to the very world they now find themselves in. The story is never short of action, passion, compassion, suspense, and so much more-often at the same time. I found myself holding my breath for long durations of the novel anxiously awaiting what happens next.train In short, this novel is simply beautiful.

An enchanting read

by AJ.

I didn't mean to inhale this in two days. It's the first book for a book club my two best friends in NYC and I are starting, and we gave ourselves a month to finish it. Two of us have completed it less than a week after it was assigned.The book tells the story of Jacob, now old, reminiscing about his life as part of a circus. It's an easy read, and no literary feat by any means, but it's a good read all the same. Its 300-plus pages fly by, and in them, you begin to feel like you're a part of the circus, understanding what it's like to work behind the scenes. It discusses the meaning of love, towards both humans and animals, and honour: what do you owe the people around you?The parts I loved best, though, and that touched me the most weren't the love story: I've seen too many of its kind before. No, it was the discussion of aging that got to me and made me cry so hard in the last two pages I woke my boyfriend up: what does it mean to age? What does your family owe you as you age? And what does your life mean when you're ninety-something, in a nursery home, and alone except for your memories? These questions terrify me: they wrack me with guilt and fear, and in raising them, this book became something more than a beach read. I don't think I'll think of Rosie too much, or Bobo; I don't think I'll remember Jacob or Marlena too often, either. But I will remember Jacob's struggles in the nursing home, and where we leave him when the book ends.

A unique and beautiful story for your summer vacation

by akhjd

This is a fabulous story, written with humor, compassion and profound insight. We are first presented with Jacob Jankowski as an elderly man in a nursing home. The old coot may have problems with his short-term memory, but he certainly has a terrific long-term memory when it comes to remembering the details of his youthful days in a travelling circus. I thought that I had no interest whatsoever in the workings of a depression-era circus, including the care of the exotic animals and the various freaks and acts. However, the author depicts this unique microcosm of humanity with such passion and color that I found myself absolutely absorbed in the story early on.Adding to the historic ambience of this saga are the well-chosen photographs at the start of each chapter: a man with a deformed human growing from his stomach; a woman proudly showing off her bare upper extremities; excited people milling around the big top...It is the undercurrent of spiritual darkness that makes this story fly so high. Gruen depicts the battle between good and evil with stunning accuracy: the greed of Uncle Al; the brutality of August; the surprising kindness of the abandonned dwarf, Walter; and the meek vulnerability of Marlena and her animals.The scene with the drunkard Camel being told that he is dying of poisoning from Jamacai ginger extract is poignant. This, followed by scenes with Camel being cared for in a box car by Walter and Jacob. Stirring, because alternating chapters depict a now elderly Jacob in a similar position of helplessness.In sum, a GREAT book. Whoever thought that an elephant would carry such literary weight? (No pun intended.) I am totally baffled by some of the very negative critiques it has received on Amazon, only to be followed by 5 star praises. Some have said it is poorly written. Are we reading the same story?

Does it have to be a masterpiece?

by Alaturka

I understand some of the criticism, but does a book have to be a literary masterpiece to be immensely enjoyable? The overwhelming positive reviews explain why not.It is well researched, but maybe the plot stretched a bit too far at times and low quality dialogues have taken away from the book's otherwise star quality.The depression era was well represented, gave a good realistic feel of the troubled times and the people. Circus setting was pure genius, and made it so interesting.Overall, it is a very enjoyable book, very readable.

The best I've read in a long time

by A. Lee

Every once in a while, there's a book that seems written for you. It speaks to you in a way books you love haven't. You don't just visualize the author's words, they leap off the page, and rather than watching the movie in your mind, you are living it. You feel the pain, the joy, the laughter. When the book is finished, you're more than disappointed. You feel invigorated, and you search eagerly through the author's books to see what, along the same vein, she has to offer. You search readers' recommendations to find the books that leave the same imprint on you. Inevitably, though the books satiate your appetite, they don't resonate in the same way. Welcome to Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants.In the prologue, we're privy to a murder. We see it as Jacob sees it, and tries in vain to stop it. Though the victim and murderer aren't named, as we're introduced to them, it becomes clear in our mind who filled those roles.Then we start from the beginning, in the midst of the Great Depression. Jacob is in class, during the final few weeks at Cornell preparing for his finals before he becomes a doctor of veterinary medicine.In a moment, the Dean will enter and change his path. Jacob was to go home and set up shop with his father, working with the animals in his town. Instead, he goes home to identify the remains of his mother and father. He sees the sign his father added to their on-site practice: Jankowitz and Son Veterinary Practice. After identifying his family, he visits the lawyer, who tells him he has nothing. The bank owns the house and everything in it. The explanation as to why his parents mortgaged the house shatters him. He returns to school to finish his finals and finds that he can't.Jacob flees and seeing a train pass, tries to jump aboard. Once on, he realizes it is a circus train. An old man, Camel, vouches for him and works to get him a job within.As soon as the boss finds he is Ivy League educated, degree or no degree, he becomes the animal man. With such a prestigious job within, he straddles the division between the higher ups and performers, and the lower echelon who helped secure his place.One performer in particular, Marlena, fascinates him. She reminds him physically of the girl he left behind at school, and emotionally captivates him. She matches his love of animals. Married to August, who has the boss' ear, she is off-limits, but a friendship develops anyway.Later comes Rosie, an elephant pilfered from a circus that has gone defunct. Rosie suffers August's wrath many, many times. Jacob is stunned by her human like qualities. Understanding, pain, anger, empathy, happiness all emanate from her big brown eyes.Following the story, I felt all of the emotions Rosie feels (except perhaps, the pain). Astonishment at the goings on to keep the circus running smoothly. The love Jacob develops for many people who help him in the course of creating a new life for himself, free of the memories surrounding his past. Sadness at the loss of animals, anger at the treatment of the animals and the red lighting of, as they're called today, carnies.The characters came alive to me, as did the setting. As soon as I finished this book, I eagerly went to Sara Gruen's website to read excerpts of other novels she had written. While good, they didn't capture me the way this did. And I wanted more of this. So I went to Amazon's recommendations Disappointedly, I moved on to Barnes and Noble. No dice. So I tried the next best thing. Research. I wanted to read first hand accounts of the circus the way it was back then. The more I read, the more I craved.Then, as though they knew my hunger, work offered me discounted tickets to the circus. I'm still debating. On the one hand, it's the circus. Elephants that feel things like people do! Horses that synchronize! How can I say no? On the other hand, it's not the 1920s. It's almost 100 years later. What if it's not the same? I mean true, we're in the middle of a depression (point 4 of pros: It's almost the same!). But people are categorically different than they were then. Theoretically, this extends to performers as well right?But alas, I have chosen to forego the circus at this moment, because I fear, like the recommendations of Barnes and Noble and Amazon, it may fall short. So I will hold onto the satisfaction this book gave me, and the hunger for more of the same. Hopefully, there will be another book that catches my attention like this one. And soon.

Good historical fiction

by algo41 "algo41"

This is a well told, interesting story. It belongs in the historical fiction genre; the subject is the travelling circuses which tried to make a financial go of it during the Great Depression. It is not a pretty picture, but as in much of historical fiction, it has a virtuous hero, and a very upbeat ending. It also has an added dimension: the story is told by the hero as he resides in a nursing home, and suffers from the condescending attitudes toward the patients there. This aspect of the book was particularly good, and for me the most genuinely moving. For that reason, I wish the author hadn't felt the need to give even this sub-plot such a "nice" ending.


by Alicia M. Seevers

I have read many books lately and this is by far one of the top ten books that I have read!I never wanted to put it down. Exceptionally written and thoroughly developed! Not a disappointment throughout the entire 464 pages.This is a book that everyone should read!

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

by Alma Winters

Jacob Jankowski is a student at Cornell University, studying veterinary medicine so that he can join his father's practice.Near the end of his senior year and before he sits for his final exams, he is called into the dean's office and told his parents have been killed in an automobile accident. When he returns home to bury them, he learns that his father is bankrupt and all he inherits is debts. After the funeral he returns to Cornell where his room and board have been paid up until the end of the year. He tries to sit for his final exams but ends up leaving without answering a single question. He walks away from the college and finally jumps aboard a railroad car and begins what will be an unusual life, a hard life, and exciting life with a circus.The story is told by Jacob when he is an old man living in a rest home. It is a depiction of life during the hard years of the Great Depression, the even harder life as a member of a traveling circus, and also provides a peek into the life of early rest homes.I found the book to be a little raw in spots but also exciting and entertaining because I remember the traveling circuses with the big top tents and the intriguing side shows which, as a child, I was never allowed to see. Alma Winters-Author of the newly released Once Upon a Time Tales.

Water for Elephants, audio book

by Amazon Customer

This story takes place during the Great Depression. It is a love story, but also a story about life with a traveling circus and all the rawness and crudeness that goes along with being part of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth as remembered by Jacob Jankowski. Normally, I'd much rather do my own reading, however David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones did an excellent job; the ninety-something-year-old Jacob was especially enjoyable. When he read, I felt as if I were sitting next to him in the nursing home listening to his amazing story.

Great Storytelling!

by Amazon Customer

Wow! I picked this up to read on the airplane to & from Las Vegas. I wound up finishing it while on my trip.Gruen is a wonderful story teller, you can tell she researched extensively for this novel. While it's not a book really about a circus, that is the main setting for most of the book. I really thought it would be a book all about Carnie Folk. How far from the truth was I?!The story is told from the view of an ageing circus vet, which is different to begin with. One would think that these types of stories would be told from performer's points of view & while that would be interesting, Jacob's POV is just as intriguing as another other's would have been.It's a great short read that's captivating & spellbinding.

Excellent novel

by Amazon Customer

This novel made me want to meet someone who had worked on a circus before. The prologue is all I read in the store and I immediately felt the need to buy it because of the mystery. The book is filled with exciting storylines that will capture your attention and keep it there throughout the story--hoping that the storyline will end as you hoped.When you get to the part in the book that the prologue mentions, the actual outcome will surprise you. The animals all find a way into your heart and the characters are all worth remembering and holding on to. I recomend this book for anyone interested in historical fiction or even science fiction because while it revolves around reality, a cirus, the way that it is written almost feels like science fiction.

What Took Me So Long?

by A. Miller

What took me so long to discover this book? I hadn't heard about it from anyone, just found it during a "browse." I've been looking for a good read for so long and "Water for Elephants" was right there the whole time. I can't wait to read Sara Gruen's other books and when I finish them, her new one should be available. She brings to life the good, the bad and the ugly of the circus world and her characters are vivid and full of life. I found myself completely engrossed in the characters and falling in love with the main animals. I couldn't wait to get to the next page...and the end was worth the whole trip. For me it was one of those books that I was sorry to finish. Thank you, Sara Gruen, for the beautiful journey.

Water for Elephants

by A M "Julia"

Was an excellent read would not have chosen on my own but book club picked it & I enjoyed it .Would recommend it as a read to anyone.

Not your average love story

by amwilla

I started reading "Water for Elephants" on a Saturday night and before I knew it, I had read half the book in one sitting. Sara Gruen's protagonist Jacob Jankowski, carries you through the novel - both as a twenty-three year old who just walked out of his Vet exams and onto the Circus arena and as ninety-three year old man stuck in a nursing home. Gruen's flawless ability to capture Jacob's voice both as a young and old man are is one of the many strengths of her talents. The storyline, which is composed of coming-of-age, love and well a circus will draw you in and keep you till you eyes read over every last word. "Water for Elephants" is a brilliantly, well-written and engrossing story that will appease to both men and women alike.

Great and fast read!

by Amy "Amy"

I thought this book was an interesting and quick read. The story pretty much grabs you instantly and I finished the book within a couple days. I'm always in the market for a good love story and this book was fast paced and interesting. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I love Reese Witherspoon. I would recommend this book!

Ordinary Prose, Unusual Story

by Andrew Corsa "Reader"

I agree with many of this book's reviews. They're right; the author does make you empathize with her characters. When reading, I felt like I was right with the characters, watching them. Many reviewers also emphasize and appreciate the book's unusual story. The story really does have wonderful historical flavor. Most of the characters participate in a 1930s traveling circus, and reading about this circus-society is entertaining and informative.Now, for all of that, the book's writing was nothing extraordinary. While Sara Gruen tells a unique story, she is not a unique storyteller. Her writing was too common for me, too similar to the writing styles of so many authors who are currently alive.As I was reading, I kept asking myself, "Have I read anything by this author before?" The truth was, I had never read anything else by her. But I felt like I had, because her writing style and word choices were nothing new to me.I imagine that, in a couple years, I won't be able to remember reading this book. Perhaps I'll hear someone talk about it, and I'll get a feeling of deja-vu and say, "Oh yeah. I think I might have read something like that, at some point."Again, don't get me wrong; this was an engaging book. It was entertaining, and I cared about the characters. It was a good read, and well worth my time. I happily recommend it to people who want to be entertained, and who might like to read about the circus. Just don't expect anything amazing.Oh, and if you don't like violence or scenes with sexual content, you should probably stay away. I don't mind these things - this doesn't affect my rating - but I figured a warning was warranted.

Just read it...it is MAGIC!

by An Educated Consumer

This is simply just a wonderful book!The characters are well defined, each and everyone of them! You care, you like, you love, you hate!The story unfolds with Jacob, at 91 or 93...he is not sure, and his life.Schooled in vetinary science, he finds himself adrift after the loss of his parents and any financial stability. He joins the circus and meets a cast of characterS like no other.His love for Marlena, his ultimate choices and growth...the paths taken...andThen...he is 91 or 93...just read it...I can't wait to see the movie...it will be magic!

A story without a story

by Angela Risner "The Sassy Orange"

The story follows Jacob Jankowski, who is living out the rest of his life in a rest home. When he was 23, he was poised to become a veterinarian. However, fate stepped in and he left school. He ended up joining a traveling circus, where he assisted with the menagerie. During this time, he falls in love with Marlena, who is a performer in the show and also married to the ringleader.I will say that Gruen is gifted in her ability to create imagery. You can see the animals and feel the angst that the circus employees go through under their sadistic leaders. That being said, I can't say that Marlena is a well-developed character. I don't feel as though we know why Jacob fell in love with her, beyond the fact that she was beautiful and cared about her animals. It feels as though that part of the story was left out.And why is August, Marlena's husband, so evil? It does sound as though he suffers from some mental issues, but what is the background on him?I just couldn't fall in love with these characters nor the story.

An interesting narrative. A vivid story. A great read.

by Ang

One of the most entertaining piece fiction I've read in the past 12 months. During post-depression era, the protagonist, Jacob, is left penniless after his parents' sudden death. Completely aimless, he jumps the first train he sees and literally lands in a circus train, plunging him head-first into a fascinating world filled with performers of all shapes and talents, a miserly ring-master, a beautiful horse trainer and a liquor-drinking/Polish-tongued elephant named Rosie.Sara Gruen does an incredible job of incorporating history and urban legends: paralysis that afflicted thousands from drinking "Jake", an alcohol substitute concocted during The Prohibition; the humongous dead hippo that was preserved in formaldehyde to fool thousands of viewers (pickled elephant).I highly recommend this book; just sit back and let yourself get lost in this strange and fascinating story.

What a ride......terrific !!

by Anne

What a ride ! Well written with exquisite detail. The characters are as rich and colorful as the romance of the circus itself. What child has not dreamed of running away to join the circus? I couldn't put this book down until the last page read. This story has everything, romance, villians, murder, mystery, friendship, compassion....oh yes, and an elephant. Wonderful, wonderful end. Thank you Ms. Gruen.

The gritty reality of circus life in the `30s

by Anne Parker "lifelong book lover"

Jacob Jankowski is an old man now - either 90 or 93 years old - but his youthful memories of life as a veterinarian with the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth remain vivid, especially when a traveling circus camps just outside the grounds of his assisted living care facility. All those he cared about during his circus days: Marlena the bare-back rider, Rosie the elephant, Camel the roustabout, Walter the dwarf and Bobo the orangutan are dead now, but they glow with life in Jacob's memory. It's true his memories are not always pleasant. His years with the circus were depression years for the country, with circuses failing on all sides. If you read this book you'll see a side of the circus you probably never imagined: its rigid caste system of performers vs working men, skipped paychecks, long days and longer nights, jealousy, madness and death. But you'll also find beauty, love and great kindness, especially to some remarkable animals.Oh, and the ending is quite wonderful if perhaps a bit fanciful. A grand book about the big top. Don't miss it.

A great read!

by Anonymous

Water for Elephants was a great book - it had me flipping the pages whenever I had a spare moment. I would highly recommend this entertaining book!

a must read!

by anthony dimenno

Loved this story! I did read the book before I saw the movie. The movie was well done, but of course the book has so many more details! Read this book!

An Unforgettable Trip to the Circus

by Antoinette Klein

Sara Gruen has penned a most enjoyable book about life in the circus. The story unfolds in two time frames from the first-person point of view of Jacob Jankowski. As a twenty-three year old vet traveling with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth and as a ninety-three year old man confined to an assisted living facility and repulsed by the sight of his aging body, his ever-sharp mind moves us effortlessly between the two time periods. We are told he is about to reveal a secret he has kept hidden for seventy years----and what a story it is!In 1931, a tragic accident takes his parents from him and leaves him alone and penniless in the midst of the Great Depression. The circus is both his salvation and his personal hell as he signs on to care for the animals. Jacob and the characters he encounters are drawn so vividly that you will remember them long after the last page is read: Marlena, the pink-sequined star of the equestrian act; her mercurial husband August who suffers with bouts of paranoid schizophrenia; Walter, the dwarf whose mother sold him to the circus, and Camel, the first member of the circus to befriend Jacob will all make you laugh and cry and cry again. But it is Rosie, the lemonade-stealing elephant, who will steal a piece of your heart and cause you never to look at elephants in quite the same way again.Heartbreaking, poignant, and with a double surprise of an ending, this amazing plot unfolds with actual circus stories the author tells us in her end note that she has taken from real life. Peppered with antique photos of long-ago circuses, this is an amazing book not only of circus life but of a man coming to grips with his diminished capacity and the aging flesh surrounding his ever-young heart. A true joy for this reader, and one I highly recommend.

Excellent Read

by apoem "apoem"

Others have reviewed the store line much more in depth and better than I can here. I loved this book. Once I started reading it, I didn't put it down. This is not a silly little beach read as it has been touted. It is more in depth than that.The characters were believable. They didn't do anything that was totally out of character once their basic personality was developed. The setting was realistic and interesting and a vital part of the story. The ending was surprising.Very well written. Very interesting. Worth the time to read and worth the money.Enjoy.

good enough

by aprildoggie

I liked this story and I think others will, too. It has a good plot and interesting characters. I just don't consider it is one of the best books I've ever read.

Heartwarming Read

by April Wiley "April"

Water for Elephants is truly an excellent read. The story is narrated by Jacob Jankowski, well the 93 year old version and the 23 year old version. The young Jankowski joined a traveling circus in depression-era America after the sudden death of his parents. With his veterinary background, Jacob is put in charge of the filthy, underfed and sometimes abused animals. The Benzini Bros. traveling circus is everything one would imagine a circus to be-dirty, crazy, and full of all kinds of different folks. Workers are apt to disappear in the night (thrown from the train, no longer able to be paid). It is obvious that Gruen did her homework on traveling circuses. Her terminology is spot-on and her vivid description is exquisite. The stand out characters are August the animal trainer, Marlena (his wife and a performer in the circus), and of course Rosie, the elephant. Gruen weaves together a story that is at times hilarious, heartwrenching, touching, warm, sad and so moving. The ending is perfect, and I could not have asked for a more enjoyable read.

A 5-star read in any season

by Armchair Interviews

Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants is one of those rare novels that will be read and re-read, discussed and enjoyed for many years, by old and young alike. Destined to be passed among family and friends and back again, until the tattered, timeworn pages resemble the books beloved central character and narrator.Jacob Jankowski had studied Veterinary Medicine and was days from exams when his parents were killed in an auto accident. Alone, frightened and penniless, he hopped a train, never intending to "run away with the circus".... It was the midst of the depression and life was hard. Joining the Benzini Brothers Circus would change his life again. From town to town, day after day, set it up, tear it down-the freaks and geeks, midgets and clowns worked, ate, lived and often died together. The harsh conditions are made even more unbearable by the greedy manager and his insane animal trainer. Yet somehow, in the midst of despair, friendships and laughter persevered. Although much of the laughter was alcohol induced, during the height of the depression and prohibition, you took what you could get.The narrator's transition from the young circus vet, to the elderly, cantankerous nursing home resident, is a well-crafted, bi-lateral view that pulls the reader into this fictional world and never lets go. Whether in his twenties, admiring the beautiful equestrian performer, Marlena, and caring for the animals he loved-or in his nineties, complaining about the indignities of old age, the warm, quick wit comes through loud and clear. From the big top to the nursing facility Gruen's sharp, three-dimensional, fictionally fluid characters will have you laughing out loud one minute, mouth agape in disgust the next.Hurry, hurry, step right up, readers and book lovers everywhere. If you hunger for a reading experience chock full of every conceivable emotion, beautifully written and wholly engrossing, Water for Elephants is a wondrous world, where fact and fiction combine, delivering the most memorable and pleasurable hours, you will be spend with a book. Characters so sharply drawn and wrought with emotion that there nearly flow off the page.Armchair Interviews says: If you only read one book this summer, let this be it!

Cute Story

by A. Sanchez "Luv Bug Luvs Books"

I saw all the great reviews so I gave Water for Elephants a try.I really enjoyed this book. Masterful story line and clever characters.It was a fast read. I can hardly wait to see the movie!

Of pictures and elephants

by A. T. A. Oliveira "A. T. A. Oliveira"

In a time of difficulties and in a place where exotic things are a rule, Sara Gruen sets her novel "Water for elephants". The story starts with moment of violence and from then on is tolerable narrative mess. The main character is a veterinarian student who drops school, joins a circus during the Depression-era, finds love, hate and whatever may crosses his way.The lessons he learns are so valuable that decades later, living in a home for old people, he can still perfectly recall them - and pass them along. He is Jacob, a strange figure, who is no longer an alien when he runs into people even stranger than him. Tod Browning's movie "Freaks" comes to mind, but Gruen never reaches the same level.The only redeeming point in the book are the old black and white circuses pictures with scenes from a bygone era. On the other hand, Gruen's heavy-handed prose lacks the sparkling that would enhance "Water for elephants". Her storytelling abilities are more focused in the tell - when it should be the showing - missing the chance of creating a whimsical story. We learn every step Jacob takes from a to c, even the unnecessary b. With card-board flat characters, the aninals end up stealing the show. These excesses tone down the narrative and keep the novel from reaching a higher artistic level.

Vivid imagery, ok story

by A. Trevino "Avid reader"

The imagery of the circus was incredible. The story of the ninety year old version of Jacob was compelling and touching but I found the actual story of the younger Jacob J. lacking depth and development. Overall it was an ok read and I'm glad I read the book.

Great Read - Heart-Breaking at Times

by A. T. Sharpe "Sharpie"

Ninety-three year old Jacob Jankowski, now living in a nursing home, reminisces about the summer of 1931 which he spent with the Benzini Brothers circus. The inner workings, relationships, conflicts of circus life are so well described in this novel with such interesting detail, you really feel like you are there. Following the events of Jacob's life made me laugh and cry. I really loved this book and am looking forward to seeing the soon-to-be-released movie.

Good book, not a good ending...

by Austin Reader

I liked the book although a bit depressing and if you are an animal lover some of the references to how the animals in the circus are treated can make you a bit uncomfortable. What I didn't like was the ending - it ended quickly and on this high note that seemed forced (don't want to spoil anything for anyone but I was expecting the end to be a bit more "realistic" not "feel good movie" ending...)

So Wonderfully Told

by A. Woodward

This is the perfect example of a good book really being about HOW the story is told. It's a good story, but the author's skill in making this a captivating read is undeniable. Read it!

Keeps you glued to every page!

by AZ Gal in NV now

I'm not a real fan of fiction, only because fiction does not keep me tuned in to the story line. Often the subject matter rambles on before the story line gets going when you finally know what you are reading about.Water for Elephants is a well written novel. The title fascinated me to begin with, and excerpts led me to believe this was going to be a good read. I was right! The story line is never boring, it's uncomplicated, and keeps you tuned in to events as they unravel. So well done. I encourage anyone who is an avid reader to buy a copy. You won't be disappointed.

Star Crossed Lovers and the Circus. Good, but Overrated.

by B. A. Chaney

Water for Elephants is the break-out runaway hit first novel by Sara Gruen. It's a classic down on his luck boy meets out of his league girl and they fall madly in love story. Except the story is set in a cruel and gritty circus world of the Depression, which only makes the story more interesting.Gruen's story is well told and written, and she does a good job portraying the everyday cruely of circus life during the hard times of the Great Depression. She creates several interesting and memorable characters--from the scrappy Camel to the manic August. And several of the circus scenes allow the reader to paint a vivid mental picture, which is always key to a fascinating novel.I'll admit that I was probably the last person in America to read this book, and as a result, I've been hearing about how fantastic it was for three years. Unfortunately, the book had a hard time living up to these expectations. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the great romance/historical novel I was expecting. I would still recommend that others read it, particularly to compare to the recent movie, since I thought the book had a much stronger storyline.

Three Ring Masterpiece

by Barbara A. Hall "silver pen"

A truly fascinating novel - for those of us old enough to remember going to the circus in small towns during the summer and now old enough to share the anxiety and depression of aging it covered the whole gamut. Only the treatment of both animals and those on the low end of the pay scale could be considered distracting from the good memories.

NYC book lover

by Barbara Cinquegrana "biris"

Like many who were critical of this book, I truly did want to love it. However, the writing was simple and flat, the characters lacked depth or conviction and the ending was a huge let down. Jacob was infuriating as he claimed to love these animals and then becomes sexually sidetracked while his Rosie was being beaten half to death. It made me sick to my stomach. Over and over, he continued to behave like a helpless child while this animal was brutalized. Time and again, he is either incredibly violent or he is impotent and seemingly defenseless. In the end, each conflict is suddently and hastily resolved with little authenticity. What a shame as this could have been a deeply moving and engaging story.


by Barbara Lane "Audio Books only"

This story is now in my top 10 best loved stories. Now that says something!!!!Jacob Jankowski is a cranky but very likable 93 yr old man who lives in an assisted living center.He is strong willed and has opinions on so many of the other people who live in the centre with him. His body has degenerated and he doesn't want to look in the mirror any more as he does not reconise himself anymore. He becomes the trouble maker of the group as his mind is sharp not like his degenerated body.Jacob remembers the circumstances under which he found himself homeless and travelling with the Benzini Brothers Circus. He alternates between the past and his day to day living with his co-workers of the circus going weeks without being paid, and some nights some workers would disappear during the night (the bosses would organise for them to be thrown off a moving train). He sleeps on a horse blanket on the train floor just thankful for a meal and a job.1931 is a hard time during the depression and everyone will do anything just to survive.The world couldn't be any tougher for this young man.This is one of the most moving stories i have ever listened to on Audio cd.A must for everyones collection.

A bibliophile's delight!

by Cheryl Stout "broiderqueen - army mama"

Though I am an avid reader and read hundreds of books a year, this is the first time I have felt the need to review a fiction book for Amazon. There are very few books that I read that I will always remember or possibly even read again but this is one of them. I read and enjoyed Gruen's other two books "Riding Lessons" and "Flying Changes" but was overwhelmed by "Water for Elephants". I liked the fact that the past is being recalled by a 90 (possibly 93) year old man - you don't find many books that have an elderly protaganist and it was refreshing. I enjoyed the many animals in the story - Rosie and Bobo especially. I enjoyed learning about the traveling circuses and felt that Gruen really did do a wonderful job researching this book (I think the old circus photos added a nice touch, too). The story fit together seamlessly and I was disappointed when it ended - I would have liked to read about the married years in more depth. The ending surprised and delighted me. This was a great "feel good" book.

Good Read

by Cheryl Wedesweiler "author of SUMMER BORN and...

I was captivated by this book. The bits of historical data mixed with fiction made the story seem more authentic.The tale is told by a 93-year-old man in a nursing home. His recollections lend to the authenticity of this story. At first, it seemed like this had been a real relative of the author. When I realized that it was not, I was amazed with the author's creativity.

Good not great

by ChEV001 "Joe"

The book is a good book but in no way great. The descriptions of the time period and the circus was great but the story was predictable to excess. The characters were contrived and stereotypical. I did enjoy parts of the story but it is not a great novel, it is merely an entertaining read.

Compelling, dark journey through the Big Top.

by Chicago Dreamer "chicagodreamer"

Set in the Great Depression, this is the story of the spectacle of The Big Top. It will put both its hands around the heart and touch that heart in just about every conceivable way a heart can be affected.It has a motley cast of characters -- curiosities with two and four legs, animal lovers and haters, humanitarians and saddists, an absolutely unforgettable Elephant (Capital E) named Rosie, plus the irascible, irreverent, bellicose, and lovable narrator named Jacob.The writing is first-class, the crafting is painstaking, the characters are compelling, the pathos, laughter, joy, and soul is addicting. Such an emptiness after finishing this wonderful work. Highly, highly recommended, especially for animal lovers!! (And for this Chicago person, it was an added delight to know the locations in Chicago that added to this story.)Word to the wise: this work touches on some of the dark side of the circus -- some, but not all -- so go inside with the eyes wide open. As an animal lover, this side is the one that grinds my bones to powder. And yet, only a small bit of the dark was given -- more could have been added, but was not.The post script is just a personal observation and strong affirmation ~ that henceforth there will be no more Big Tops, Rodeos, Dog Fights, Animal Races, Bull Fights, or any other cruelties that will be offered as "entertainment" for humanity. Where is the humanity in any one of those events???

A vet, an elephant, and a girl

by C. Hill

It's the early 1920s. Jacob Jankowski is about to finish up his veterinary degree at Cornell University when he learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash. Stunned by this awful and sudden turn of events, Jacob completely blanks while taking his final exams. He walks out and wanders out of town in a complete daze, eventually jumping a train. It turns out he has jumped the circus train for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.Jacob pretty much instantly falls for Marlena, one of the star performers. The only problem is that she is already married to August, the animal manager, who is, as we come to find out, a paranoid schizophrenic with erratic behavior problems. The story focuses on these three characters as the circus train makes its way around the country, performing in various cities. Along the way, the circus acquires an elephant, Jacob befriends his reluctant roommate, and tries to save an ailing friend from being tossed from the circus.This is a really interesting and moving book. It's really fascinating to read about daily circus life and how things worked. And it's a touching story about a smart elephant, a compassionate vet, and a forbidden love. I do wish there had been some more charater development for Rosie the elephant, though. Also, the story is told in retrospect, from a present-day Jacob who is now in his 90s. Every few chapters, the story skips back to present day, and the nursing home-bound narrator. I felt the story would have worked a lot better if it had just stuck to the circus part of the story. The present day interjections were distracting. Other than that, this was an excellent book. Highly recommended.

A New York Times Bestseller Unlikely To Stand The Test Of Time

by Chris

Water for Elephants has its good moments (a particular incident late in the book, during which the protagonist is standing over a sleeping but dangerous man with knife in hand trying to decide what to do next is hauntingly poignant), but all told, I'm glad that I read this book through the Kindle leasing program rather than buying it.There are several themes in Water for Elephants, including the lack of dignity often associated with the treatment of the elderly and the evil effects of greed. However, the backbone of the story seems to be a sort of iconoclasm. The Sterling images of the circus often inculcated in us during childhood are challenged by images of violence, animal cruelty, and graphic sexuality. However, the fact that this book unearths the dark side of the early twentieth century circus speaks less to its quality than to the fact that our society all too often allows commercialism and popular mythology to shape our images of the past. Simply challenging false notions held by society contributes very little to the value of a story like this one. In the end, the tone of the book takes on moods which can change violently from the darkly cynical to the unrealistically optimistic (the ending of the book feels impossible, illegal, and unsafe). Sentimentality, rather than a meaningful exploration of human emotion, dominates the scenes of the assisted living facility, although as noted above, the fact that those scenes also bring to light the continuing need for respect to the elderly does serve to redeem them to a decent extent.The story is, on some level, a "forbidden romance", and on this level, it has many failings. The rapidity with which Marlena falls for Jacob seems more indicative of a woman torn by the violent nature of her relationship than a woman in anything approaching love. The way in which August is killed seems to do nothing but Grant a legitimacy to the relationship via Pacidermis ex Machina, and to tie up loose ends.All in all, this isn't an awful book, but it seems to be the type of story commonly found in book discussion groups for all of two months before being rapidly forgotten. There is no real draw, beyond a handful of tense and well-written moments in the last quarter of the story.For the Kindle edition, images work surprisingly well, and I have no real complaints about formatting.

Unbelievable (1 star)...but I Learned Something (2 stars)

by Christine "Avid reader"

Not that I wanted to know anything about the circus - ever - let alone the circus during the 30s, but there you have it. I read this for a book club; I'd never have chosen it for myself and was the only person to not enjoy the book. While I skimmed much of the circus part, I found myself enjoying the here-and-now part with Jacob in the nursing home.He was the type of character I enjoy, with his ornery comments and the loss he endured. Not necessarily with the death of his beloved wife, but with the forgetfulness of his surviving family, his children and grandchildren. It was almost as if he was an afterthought once he was in the Home - out of sight out of mind. That was heartbreaking, and I could see why he chose the end he did - to run away and spend the last bit of his life doing something he could, where people needed him and wouldn't forget him.The young Jacob's life - eh. He was weak, not very bright and I question how he managed to get into an Ivy League school. But then they don't test you on common sense. There was no real consequence for his actions in the circus, and he managed (drunk death defying feats on a moving train notwithstanding) to consistently escape his actions.I admit to not guessing the entire ending, though it was obvious who his wife was since her introduction. The writing was full of flowery clichés, and there were several places I wish Ms. Gruen would've gone over again to plug up some holes and take out excessive details, but overall it did work. I just wasn't interested in it.

Even if this isn't your typical read, you will enjoy.

by Christopher D. Galeone

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen is a well written, depression-era book, that most readers ages 15-95 could read and enjoy even if you think this isn't the typical type of book you would read.This book tells two stories simultaneously as a 93 yr. old crumudgeon embittered by his surroundings in a retirement home recollects his life as he travelled with a second-rate circus while falling in love with a married woman.I probably would have never read this book had it not been for a family book club (Isn't that why you have them), however I'm sure glad I did, I really did enjoy this read and found the pages turned much quicker than I anticipated.I always am interested to see how an author can write in the point-of-view pf the opposite sex and I thought it was executed wonderfully. Also, the terminology that was used was very specific to the time and to how the circus-folk spoke at the time. One could tell Gruen definately did her homework.If there is any drawback it would be the end to one of the stories (I'm not going to say which one or how it ends don't worry). I thought it ended kind of sappy and a little unbeleivable for a story that seems very factual.Bottom line, four stars. I am very stingy with my stars, so please read and enjoy.

I could almost smell the peanuts .....

by Claireschild

Im usually skepical when it comes to reading a book that has become a movie . I end up either loving the movie and not liking the book or loving the book and not liking the movie. THIS book was stunning in detail and takes the reader into the 'Big Top' in such detail that you can almost smell the peanuts! It contains violence but it is told with such skill that the reader understands just how brutal humans can be ....but the main character is the hero and does make a difference . As for the romance...its innocent and well written. There is something for all in this story and I see now why it was made into a movie. I have not seen it yet but I can only imagine !

Timeless Novel- Crystal Barkley

by clb9016 "clb"

Passion, hatred, love, and murder; Water for Elephants, the novel by Sara Gruen has it all. It's rare that I read a novel and become so engulfed with the story, but from the first page, I was hooked. The way in which Gruen has the protagonist of the story, Jacob Jankowski, switch back and forth between his 22-year-old self and present day 90 (or 93) year-old self is both creative and effective in capturing her readers. Every single scene has intensity and vibrancy. The juxtaposition of the elderly Jankowski and the young circus worker Jankowski posed a humorous yet almost sad setting for the story. Readers would be crazy not to fall in love with his character.Though fiction, the novel represents the lives of circus workers back in the 1920's and 1930's and gives insight to the gruesome conditions the men had to live in, and the constant struggles that they faced everyday. Each chapter begins with a photograph derived from circuses back from the time Jankowski would have worked. The photos truly show the lives that these men led and let readers see not only imagine how things were. Though the historical value of the novel was fascinating, the forbidden but passionate relationship between Marlena and Jacob was the most captivating portion. The constant secrecy from August and the fear of being revealed created an incredible emotional reaction for me.The corruption of the novel and the intensity of the characters made this novel a hard one to dislike. In my opinion, it has to be one of the best books written in the past few years. If there were one book I had to recommend to anyone, it would definitely have to be Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

I couldn't put it down!

by CLR222

I loved this book, not only was it extremely entertaining...it was so informative. I learned so much. The circus never interested me, but since the book had such great reviews I decided to try it out. I'm glad I did. I highly recommend this book. It is dark and creepy at some points, depressing, but there is just something about it... you will fall in love with Rosie.

Entertaining historical details

by C Mauro

It's all in the details and the people who become real. I liked how the author used past and present to age Jacob. It added depth to a story which was already full of twists and turns.

Enchanting and entertaining...a great story!

by C. Nunez "book loving teacher"

As I neared the end of this book, I was so sad. It was just such a wonderful, rich, charming story that I wanted it to continue forever!I was completely enchanted by Gruen's story and way with words. From page 1 of the prologue, she had captured my full attention with vivid imagery and intriguing characters. When you read great historical fiction like this, it's hard not to get sucked into the world and time of the characters. Water for Elephants does this to perfection--my mind was transported back to Depression-era America, as I traveled on a train-circus, mingling with performers and working-men alike. It was a fun and fantastical adventure.Gruen's story, gritty at times and uplifting at others, is compelling to say the least--I never wanted to set this book down! I thought the author's technique of transporting the reader back and forth between Jacob's time with the Benzini Brothers and his later years spent at the nursing home was done magnificently. And it was the his nursing home days that really made Jacob such a well-developed and likeable main character.I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story! You will not be disappointed.

The real show happens offstage...

by CoffeeGurl

Jacob Jankowski is ninety years old -- or maybe he's ninety-three; he doesn't remember. However, he does remember a very interesting part of his life. It comes about one day when the news that a circus is in town and one of Jacob's fellow nursing home inmates brags about having worked at a circus and giving water to the elephants. Jacob knows the old man is full of it. After all, Jacob once worked at a circus. Rewind seventy-something years, to the 1930s, amid the Great Depression. Jacob is twenty-three, just weeks away from getting his degree in Cornwall University to become a certified veterinarian. Then he receives the news that his parents died in a terrible accident. He also discovers that they had no money -- they had invested every last penny on Jacob's Ivy League education. Distraught, Jacob runs away. By accident, he ends up on a train, destination unknown. He discovers that the train is actually one that carries a traveling circus. One thing leads to another, and he ends up working as a sort of unofficial caretaker for the animals. He meets August and his wife Marlena. Jacob learns many secrets to life as a circus performer and worker, meets lots of interesting people, and encounters some very unsavory things. August, for instance, is a very unstable, unpredictable person. He is abusive to the animals and insufferable one moment, and completely charming and obliging the next. The way he treats the animals, especially Rosie, the new performing elephant, makes Jacob sick, but he can't do anything about it. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth has its awful moments, but things get worse for Jacob when he falls in love with the beautiful Marlena...I like the way Water for Elephants changes from Jacob's present-day narrative as a cynical old man with early signs of dementia to his days as a nave young man and his struggles with wanting to fit into the Benzini Brothers and wanting to lose his virginity. The way his voice and narrative change is clear and precise and you get drawn into this unique and at times quirky novel. The backdrop of the Depression is wonderful and believable. The secondary characters are compelling, especially Walter, August, Uncle Al and Marlena. August is a horrible person, and the scenes centered on his abuse toward Rosie the elephant are indeed sickening. It's a good thing Gruen spares us from too much information in terms of the actual abuse. Rosie sounds adorable and I loved it when she was in the scenes. I very much enjoyed Water for Elephants. It's very moving and entertaining. No wonder it became a #1 New York Times bestseller! Even though the NYT list has never influenced my reading, especially since the stuff that makes the top list is mostly trash, it's nice to see that readers get it right every once in a while. Sara Gruen is a great author. I look forward to reading her future works.

Very intriguing book

by Colleen

This book had me hooked from the first chapter. It's a great saga of the circus life. It was an easy read and had a story line that kept me entertained.

A behind the scenes view of circus life

by Cory D. Slipman

Sara Gruen's engaging novel "Water for Elephants" is a well researched and cleverly formatted reminiscence of one Jacob Jankowski, a 93 or 90 year old (he can't remember which) assisted living inhabitant. Jankowski, still in possesion of his faculties, had worked in circuses for many years and this novel is a flashback to his life at that time. Gruen spins her story alternating chapters of Jankowski's past and present.Jankowski had been an enthusiastic veterinary student at prestigious Cornell university. Days before sitting for his final exams, he shockingly learns that his parents had been killed in an tragic auto accident. To his dismay, he stunningly learns that due to the economic downturn of the Great Depression, his father's veterinary business and whole estate is essentially worthless. His parents mortgaged everything to pay for his education.Distraught and penniless, Jankowski aimlessly wanders from the Cornell campus, eventually hitching a ride, hobo style on a train that was home to the Benzini Brothers circus. Mentored by a alcoholic but kindly circus worker named Camel, he starts working caring for the animals in what was known as the menagerie. He will assume the duties of a true vet and work under the schizophrenic equestrian director August. Augie is married to celebrated equestrian performer Marlena, who Jankowski falls deeply in love with."Water for Elephants" is essentially a look back into the 3 1/2 months that Jankowski worked in the circus revealing the seamier underbelly of circus life from the side unseen by the "rubes" or circus-goers. The book concludes with the nonagenarian Jankowski once again fulfilling an improbable circus fantasy.

A very colorful read!

by Crystal S.

Amazing. The author really did her research for this book. When reading it, it was hard to put down. She went back and forth between present day and memories, which usually bothers me, but here it didn't. I found that I enjoyed both time periods. Everything was well told and really brought the images to life while reading. It was a very colorful read.

"Is where you're from the place you're leaving or where you have roots?"

by Crystal Starr Light

"Is where you're from the place you're leaving or where you have roots?"Jacob Jankowski is a young man, studying to be a vet at Cornell. When both of his parents die in a car accident, Jacob is so torn up, he runs away in the middle of his final exams and joins up on a circus train, the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth. His life in the Depression era on a traveling circus are intercut with the present day, 90-something year old Jacob reminiscing about the past and dealing with one of the most difficult obstacles: life.I Liked:With the movie due to appear in theaters soon and the recommendation from a friend, I decided to hunt down an audiobook and listen. And, in short, am I glad.Before I started reading, I thought (based on either the blurb on the back cover and the movie trailer) that the book was a love story dressed up in circus costumes in the vein of James Cameron's "Titanic". Poor boy meets wealthy attached (married) girl, both fall in love, blah, blah, blah. Throw in some random animals, circus acts, and there you go.I was pleasantly surprised to see that this wasn't the case. The characters were beautifully drawn and real, from our protagonist and narrator, Jacob, to his bunkmate, Kinko/Walter, to our love interest, Marlena, to our antagonist, Big Al. The story focuses more on the circus life than on the love between Marlena and Jacob. The setting was beautiful and intricate, the ambience was spectacular and grotesque (sometimes at the same time!), and I truly felt transported back into the past. Not to mention, there were many tearjerker moments--real, emotional moments, not those written just to elicit a pornographic emotional response.Jacob was a good narrator. I felt his pain as his parents died, I understood his awe at Rosie, I felt his disgust at August's disgusting behavior. But my favorite character was Marlena, and I can definitely see why Reese Witherspoon was cast as her. She is spunky, fun, mature, and spirited. My heart broke hearing how her family abandoned her just because she married a Jew (she was Catholic), and I hated how August treated her. Walter was also another great character. It was terrible how his mother basically sold him to the circus just because of his dwarfism. And the scene where he almost loses Queenie really brought home how alone and lonely this poor guy was.So many novels these days seem to be window dressing for a love story, but this novel isn't one of them. Sure, a cornerstone of the novel is about Marlena and Jacob, but there is much more going on. A man's journey into coping with death. The horrors of the circus. How hard life was back in the Depression. Escapism. The trials of growing older. The need to belong. The story deftly wove back and forth between younger and older Jacob, and I found myself interested in BOTH sides, not just one or the other.I Didn't Like:In places, the novel is very graphic. I didn't care for when Jacob barged in on someone AHEMing or hearing about the two ladies AHEMing Jacob.I would have liked to have seen a little more of the acts that went on in the circus, though I suppose those would work better in a visual medium.Dialogue/Sexual Situations/Violence:A few f-bombs, amongst milder profanities.Jacob is interested in losing his virginity. While drunk, two women try to perform sexual acts on him, but Jacob vomits on one. Two characters make love; "self love" is shown once or twice.The story opens with a character about to be impaled. Camel is crippled because of his drinking. August is abusive to his animals and to others. Workers have been thrown off the train, a practice called "red lighting".Overall:This is an impressive book, one that totally bucked all my prejudices and preconceived notions. It was able to do what a lot of books can't: make me care about the characters and take me to another "world". I only hope that the movie, when it comes out, can do it justice. Highly recommended.Brought to you by:*C.S. Light*

Sweet & Insightful

by C. Scott "dewseyread"

I really enjoyed this book - read it in 2 nights and in the end came away with a good feeling. The insight into the old circus life was interesting & exciting. The insight into how our elderly are treated was sad and eye opening. Then in-between was woven love, adventure, friendship, animals, racism, murder, mystery, with a happy ending. What more could you ask for?

Water for elephants

by C. Sutherland

I decided to read this book because I was looking for something different and I did find that. I thought it was well written and it was a very quick read but I have to say that for me it was not a four or five star read. The characters were interesting, and Rosie was great!! A fun read but not all it was built up to be for me.

Want all my friends to read it~!

by C. Wong "Book worm"

I loved this book, even though I have sold a lot of my books because of a lack of shelf space, this one I will always keep. Have already recommended it to many of my friends. Don't want to say anything about the story, it is a treasure.

One of the best books I've read this year...

by Cynthia K. Robertson

Although it is only April, I predict that Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen will be one of the best books I read this year. Gruen has proven to be an amazing storyteller.Water for Elephants is told in the first person but from two different perspectives--Jacob Jankowski at 23 years of age and again, at 93 years old. Gruen seamlessly weaves the chapters between past and present. Jacob at 23 is finishing up his last semester at Cornell Veterinary School when a family tragedy causes him to flee. He finds himself on a train for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth in 1931. Needing a vet, the circus hires young Jacob to tend to their menagerie. Jacob at 93 resides in a nursing home where he laments the curses of old age, the passing of his wife, and the waning affection of his family. The arrival of a visiting circus triggers a flashback to his youthful circus experiences.1931 is a hard time for almost all Americans, and the circus workers are as hard hit as any. Most are one step away from being homeless and jobless. Conditions on the circus train are harsh for most. Many workers go weeks without being paid, and they tend to disappear during the night when times are tough (management has them thrown off the train). The menagerie is often times treated better than the workers. But the circus does provide three meals a day and a place to sleep--even it if might mean a horse blanket on a train bed floor. Jacob discovers very quickly that he's just about the only advocate the animals have and he must battle a ruthless owner (Uncle Al) and a crazy animal trainer (August).Any circus has more than their fair share of interesting characters, and Gruen's circus is no exception. In addition to Uncle Al and August, there is Walter (the midget clown), Marlena (an equestrian with whom Jacob falls in love), and Grady and Camel (workers). One of the most sympathetic characters in Water for Elephants is Rosie, the elephant--who shares more "human" characteristics and feelings than some of the circus bosses. The tender-hearted Jacob quickly grows to manhood as he is forced to protect both animals and coworkers from abuse and worse.Water for Elephants is a delightful, moving book, and the ending was a very pleasant surprise. Also, if you want a special treat, listen to it on audiobook. The two readers, David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones, did a wonderful job of bringing both Jacobs (young and old) to life.

A Gem. A Book of Surprising Depth and Joy.

by Dana Al-Husseini

This was an unexpectedly wonderful book. Witty, funny and exceptionally moving. Who would have thought the circus is as bureaucratic and complicated as the corporate world! The glimpse into life on a traveling circus was an enlightening and refreshing backdrop from which to catapult some of the themes we all face in our daily lives. This book narrates the life of Jacob Janowski, an aspiring vet who is left orphaned and hops aboard what he soon learns is a train belonging to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth!This book is full of hearty laughs and painful disappointments. You will fall in love with Jacob's relentless can-do attitude and his inherent affection and commitment towards those he grows to love. Rosie the elephant will touch you in ways you cannot imagine. There is a certain depth around the love that animals exude. It is silent and unspoken yet so powerful. Rosie is intelligent and caring and through her vigilant eyes and silent actions is a magnificent portrayal of loyalty and friendship. Walter the clown is another character to whom I grew very attached. He is the typical insecure cynic whose interior consists of nothing but a soft shell. He embodies the spirit of change and devotion and camaraderie. This incredible cast of characters makes this a book of overwhelming depth.`Water for Elephants' was a surprisingly poignant story that is brimming with emotion. The characters are so authentic; their memory will remain with you well after the pages of this book have ended. It was a truly unique and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Totally worth reading :)

by Dana C. Ahmad "Dana"

I really enjoyed reading this book. I had to do so through tears most of the time. I really loved the way she wrote the story from both perspectives of Jacob as a young man and as an old man. It helped it mean more to me to read about it from his memory. It reminded me of what treasures we have in our elderly. I also loved to see all the old pictures, they were great. On the down side of the book there was more then needed sex and bad language in the story for me. But that's just me. I do like the book and am very glad I read it. I would suggest it to other adults to read.


by Dancewriter "Writer/Reader"

Engrossing story. I love anything that takes me into a different world and holds me there and this story does that - the writing is simple, but the characters, the settings, the whole circus world is vividly portrayed. This book is always on my TR ( to recommend ) list when people are looking for a great, sweeping read dense with everything that makes a book memorable.

Transport yourself back in time and join the circus

by Daniel Estes

Water for Elephants is an engrossing story about life in an early 1930's, depression-era traveling circus, but is also about so much more. Jacob Jankowski is presently ninety or ninety-three (he doesn't recall) and living out the end of his life in a nursing home. He has family who visit, but they are busy enough with their own lives that he is largely forgotten. A circus comes to town and Jacob thinks back on his own youthful experiences.I appreciate the story's realistic portrayal of early 20th century circus life. The animals live and work in conditions that are horrific, but at the same time they are the lifeblood of the show next to the human performers and are therefore treated well enough to that extent. The author, Sara Gruen, mentions in an interview that many of the anecdotes in the tale are plucked from real life accounts. (For example, an elephant stealing lemonade from the lemonade stand when no one is looking.) Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.

A Great Entertaining Read

by Darah Lace

I bought this book on the recommendation of my good friend and I absolutely fell in love with it. Sara Gruen is so articulate and a true story-teller. She weaves a mesmerizing tale of the magical and historical side of the behind the scenes of circus life. The deceit and downright meanness' gets transformed into this entertaining tale. The people and the elephant will linger in your memory long after you finish this story. A super read and I Highly recommend this novel.

The old guy's story is more compelling

by Dave Schwinghammer "Dave Schwinghammer"

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is really two books rolled into one. The first involves a young, depression-era veterinarian who loses his parents in a car accident just days before taking his final exams. His father, also a vet, had mortgaged his practice to the hilt to pay for his son's Cornell education. At loose ends the boy hooks up with a circus.The second has to do with the same man, now a miserable nonagenarian confined to a senior citizens home. He gets into a "fight" with another old man who claims to have carried water for the elephants. You don't carry water for the elephants; you take the elephant to the water. One would think the first story would be more compelling since the circus is a world of its own with its own language and culture, but it's really the ninety-year-old who wins our hearts. His "people" come to see him every weekend, but he doesn't really know who they are; he doesn't remember if he's ninety or ninety-three. But he does remember the circus.The circus story is kind of hokey. Almost immediately the young vet, Jacob Jankowski, falls in love with Marlena, the star of the equestrian act. The problem is she's already married to the animal trainer, who just happens to be a paranoid schizophrenic. He's also insanely jealous. Then there's the elephant, Rosie, who only speaks Polish; Camel, an alcoholic roustabout who helps Jacob get a job with the circus; and Kinko, the dwarf, who at first is an enemy of Jacob's but later befriends him when Jacob cures Kinko's dog Queenie of the trots. The book does come to life periodically when Sara Gruen uses real circus lore. For instance, Uncle Al, the circus owner, loves freaks. He takes the circus train on a wild ride when he has a chance to employ Charles Mansfield-Livingston, a man with a parasite twin growing out of his chest, whom he calls Chaz.Gruen also provides numerous real-life circus pictures, one of which is especially titillating. She got them from STEP RIGHT THIS WAY: THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF EDWARD J. KELTY and WILD, WEIRD, AND WONDERFUL: THE AMERICAN CIRCUS AS SEEN BY F.W. GLASIER.Gruen keeps you turning pages, relying on a couple of suspense elements. Does Jacob get the girl, and does Jacob, the nonagenarian, get to see a circus one last time? I had a bit of a problem with Gruen's ending. I suppose it might appeal to the sentimentalists out there, but let's just say it's not exacting realistic or believable.

Beautiful story

by David Edmonds "tapestry100"

An amazingly beautiful story, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants is the tale of Jacob Jankowski and the 3 months that he worked for the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus. When we meet Jacob, he is in his 90s, living in a nursing home and reliving his days with the Benzini Brothers circus. It was through a chance encounter after the death of his parents that caused him to leave veterinary school and put his fate with the circus.I was really surprised by how quickly the story captured my attention. The novel jumps back and forth from "now," where we see Jacob dealing with the trials of old age, and "then," as he remembers his days with the Benzini Brothers circus, and how those days formed him into the man that he would grow to become. The sequences are fluid, though, and you find yourself easily swept along with the story. Sara Gruen's prose is amazing; I found myself on several occasions holding my breath, I was so wrapped up in the story. Gruen clearly portrays her characters emotions and captures each of their voices and personalities perfectly and her portrayal of the lives of the circus folk in the 1920s-30s was very grim. It was amazing to me that so many people would live that kind of life, but I guess when that was the only work to be had, they'd take what they could get.Gruen seems to have done her research as well. Even though the Benzini Brothers circus is fictitious, I think it was clearly influenced by any number of circus' in operation at the time. She also makes reference to several actual circus events (such as the Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 and the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train accident of 1918). Even down to the band playing "The Stars and Stripes Forever" during an emergency, Gruen seems to have done her homework on circus life.If you haven't read this yet, I'd really recommend it. I'd had the book on my shelf since it was released (I was caught up in the buzz, but never got around to actually reading it) and after 2 friends mentioned it a couple weeks back, I decided to take it off the shelf and give it a try. I'm sorry that it took me that long to get around to reading it.

Tears of a clown.

by David Lupo "David Lupo"

"Water For Elephants" is a human story, filled with the drama of raw human living. The cover invites you to step right up and look at the shadow side. The title is a subject that the narrator, Jacob, knows far more about than anyone else, having spent years on a circus train. So even the title points to the in-your-face flavor of the story. The characters walk into the story from the rough years of the Great Depression. They all point to the darker side of our nature, while they put on a show that denies the fact. Here we find true grit: the smell of alcohol; the sight of blood; the sound of rage; the feelings of frustration.The plot includes people who grit their teeth and bear the pain. Jacob becomes addicted to his pain through the years. August struggles with mental illness. Marlena presses on in a marriage she doesn't want. A dwarf ekes out a difficult living in a world of rejection. The big boss pushes on to maintain that his world is composed of "suckers born every minute". The animals too also bear hardship and abuse from supposed caretakers.The story is energized by a foretaste of rebellion against the oppressive power. This early glimpse kept me moving through the whole story. Note that this is not a happy story. You're not going to read Winnie the Pooh. Sara Gruen finds a silver thread of redemption in the midst of dark clouds in Jacob, albeit a painful thread. It sticks like a tattoo through the years, making Jacob what he is in his nineties, still swinging his fists at enemies long gone. He is isolated, and to battle loneliness takes the only path at the end of the story that he knows.I guess all I wanted was a happier ending.

Water for Elephants; Chocolate for Readers

by David Zimmerman

This wonderful book shot through the family like water through an elephant's trunk, as my father, my wife and I all read it in the space of two weeks. Gruen writes the most enjoyable kind of historical fiction, focused on a fascinating time and setting that the reader probably knew next to nothing about before starting the book. In this case, the scene is the American traveling circus of the early 1930's, just after the start of the Depression. The protagonist operates in two time periods, as a nonagenarian in a current day "assisted living facility" and flashing back to his days as a young veterinary student who due to circumstances beyond his control ends up serving as the vet for a traveling circus. Gruen intended to imagine various vignettes for the book, but in her research and interviews with circus veterans discovered stories from real life that were even better--a real-life case of truth being stranger than fiction. The assisted living facility is inevitably less interesting than the world of freaks and geeks in a circus, but Gruen handles the voice of the aged just as deftly as that of the young vet. The book is enhanced by actual pictures from various circus archives. Not an especially profound book, "Water For Elephants" still gets a five-star rating for all readers for readability and Gruen's ability to evoke an interesting place and time so well, along with a surprising and touching, albeit a little far-fetched, ending.

Historical fiction meets Cirque du Soleil !!!

by Dazy

Amazing book!! Starts off slowly and snowballs into a fabulous tale... you won't be disappointed!!

Elephants never Forget; You'll Never Forget this Book

by Deacon Brodie

There are so many things to rave about when it comes to Sara Gruen's novel.First it's a period piece (which I love) set in Depression-Era America that gets all of the details just right: it's gritty, truthful, and unsentimental, yet still fascinating and entertaining. I was amazed and enlightened by all of the details of an early-20th century circus and all of its inner workings.Secondly, the novel is told from two different perspectives. One is a 23-year-old Jacob Jankowski, who is an ivy-leage educated animal doc and recently "orphaned", while the other perspective is a 90(or 93)-year-old Jacob, whose days are spent in a nursing home, longing for the days of his youth. Both perspectives are equally compelling and entertaining, and they come together to reveal mysteries about the story in the end.Speaking of mysteries, I loved that there was a twist that totally caught me off guard in the end. These always make for great pleasures if done right, and Gruen's surprise delivers a punch at the end that I wasn't even looking for.I already am waiting for the mention of film rights to this one. It screams movie all the way through. Not just because of the amazing story and characters, but also for the potentially incredible set design, costume design, and stunning visuals. The elderly Jacob would be a great role for someone in the winter of their years and the flashbacks between then and now just yearns to be filmed.Finally, the characters in this book sold me. Every one of them is a real treat. As you might imagine, the characters in a circus are, well, real characters, and those from The Benzini Brothers circus is no exception. Jacob, upon accidentally joining this troupe, discovers real evil, unlikely friendships, and the love of his life. The characters are not exaggerations or caricatures like another unnamed circus novel I have read. These people are empathetic, realistic, funny, and fascinating creations you won't soon forget.Get a copy of this novcl today. You'll be rooting for Jacob Jankowski all the way.

A Compelling Tale, Perfect for a Group Discussion

by Debnance at Readerbuzz

Set in the Great Depression, Water for Elephants is a compelling tale, perfect for a book group discussion. Jacob Jankowski loses his parents in a car wreck and drops out of veterinary school. He finds his way aboard a circus train and begins a new life on the road. He meets and falls in love with both circus star, Marlena, who is married to the perverse animal trainer, August, and the seemingly unteachable elephant, Rosie.I was most taken by the circus details and the details from the Great Depression that Gruen used in the story. I was fascinated with life in the circus during those hard times. I also liked how Gruen moved the story back and forth in time from an elderly Jacob to a young Jacob.

A Gritty Romance

by debra crosby

As much as I wanted to really like this book, I felt that it failed on several levels. I will say that the circus atmosphere was conveyed with incredible, and apparently accurate, detail and I was impressed by that. I could see and even smell everything, and the book movingly conveyed how desperate times led to desperate people clinging to even the most degrading employment with a third rate circus. However, the characters seemed to be straight out of a romance novel, with the exception of old(even he's not sure how old he is)Jacob, who was funny, disarming, feisty and touching -- whereas the young Jacob was pretty vanilla, too obviously a "nice guy" with little personality. In contrast, Old Jacob's voice was so clear and true and I really cared about him;he was funny and sad, his memories bittersweet, his longings compelling. I also liked (but who didn't?)Rosie the elephant, who had twice the personality of anyone else in the fleabag circus, with the exception perhaps of Walter, the dwarf. The plot depended on coincidences that I had problems believing, and I found myself caring more about the animals (which I admit isn't unusual for me!) than I did about any of the people. However, I'd heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys sentimental stories, who loves happy, pat endings, who doesn't necessarily want a book to convey great ideas, but who is touched more by the romance rather than the writing. Those of you will, as have many others, it appears, love this book. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, it's just that those kinds of books are simply not what I prefer to read. This book might actually make a good movie, and I'd be surprised if Hollywood hasn't snatched it up already.

Paranoid Schizophrenic? No

by Della

I thought this was an interesting read until the author decided to label the villian of the piece as a paranoid schizophrenic. August was cruel, sadistic and had violent mood swings. None of these are symptoms of schizophrenia. He did not hear voices, have complicated delusions, or an inability to keep touch with reality. Unlike most unmedicated schizophenics, August had no trouble thinking rationally or logically, on the contrary, he was in charge of a large section of the circus and exhibited fine organizational skills!The writer could simply have portrayed her character, August, as a jealous, violent man but instead she chose to advance the false stigma that people with schizophrenia are horribly cruel and violent or that they have a "split" personality. If only Gruen had researched psychiatry as well as she had the circus.I work with people who suffer from this disease. While, without medication the patients delusions might possibly, rarely, lead them to do something violent, it's usually in relationship to fear associated with a delusion -- thinking a person is really an alien from outerspace, for example. Never the sort of cold-blooded violence August engaged in. August always knew exactly who or what he was hurting.When medicated, people with schizophrenia are actually less likely to commit violent acts than the general population.It's truly a shame when a popular book spreads stigma in this manner, the negative ripple effects go on and on.

one of the best

by Denine M. Benedetto "Ms. B's class"

Water for Elephants Algonquin Books, 2007, $8.37Sara Gruen ISBN 1565125606I started taking steps, one foot at a time. My feet of course. The circus tent was getting closer, and I could hear the music. These are the words of Jacob Jakowski in the book water for elephants. Jacob was in veterinarian school, but before the final exam his parents were brutally killed in a car crash. As if that was not devastating enough, Jacob later found out that his parents had been accepting corn and other food items, and had put up a 2nd mortgage on their house just so he could through his final year in vet school. During his final exam, his hands were shaking, and he could not concentrate. He ran out of the room, and jumped onto a train that by chance belonged to the Beninzi Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth! His life is changed in an instant, and his world seems to be surrounded by good and evil.The book is based in the 1930s during the great depression A time. I would recommend this book for those who love realistic fiction. I have no doubt in my mind that this book is one of the best books of the year!-- Jace McBride

Sentimental and romantic old-time circus adventure story...

by Denise Crawford "DC"

Ninety-three-year-old Jacob Jankowski, an unhappy resident of a nursing home, reminisces about his life with the traveling train circus -- Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth -- during the Great Depression. In and out of a small town, usually an overnight, the performers and working men put on a show that involves animals, freaks (the dwarf and the fat lady), the clowns, and all manner of circus act entertainment including a tent just for "gentlemen" and other delights.Jacob's parents died just as he was about to write his final exams in veterinary school at Cornell University. Because of the hard economic times, his parents mortgaged everything to pay his tuition and thus he was left grief-stricken AND penniless. He ends up joining the Benzini Brothers by an accident of good timing and, because of his vet training, he ends up hired on to care for the horses and other animals. Along the way, the circus owner purchases an elephant named Rosie; she becomes a special part of this story.Author Sara Gruen weaves a tale of hooking the rubes into coming to the show, second-rate performances that managed to wow the audiences, boozy nights, in-fighting among those with the train, backbreaking work, and other fascinating details of the traveling circus. Jacob quickly assimilates into the hard life and makes the mistake of falling in love with Marlena, one of the performers who has a sadistic husband. Not only cruel to his wife, August also beats and mistreats the animals. What will become of Jacob and the rest of the members of this group of misfits, outcasts, and showmen?Readers will savor the story and applaud the somewhat maudlin ending. I read it quickly and found it very sweet and entertaining; recommended for teens and adults. Enjoy!Caveat: there are descriptions of mistreatment and abuse of animals in this book. If that is unpalatable to you, you should skip this book.

Water for Elephants--a long cool drink for lovers of good fiction!

by Denise Wyatt "devourer of books"

Loved the premise, loved the characters, loved the descriptions, loved the time period, and as a child, loved the circus. After reading this book, the circus never looked quite the same. A great story filled with historical detail, romance, mystery, animal cruelty--you name it, this great read covered it.

Great story!

by Diane Dever Pucker

What a wonderful story....Well written!So many details make you really envision the whole story.Definitely a great read. Highly recommend it!

Amazing book!

by Dierdra Byrd

I am not real sure what I expected going into this book, more of a romance "chick" book I guess. I don't really like romance books all that much so it was awhile before I actually read this book but wishing now I had read it sooner! It was NOTHING like I thought it was going to be at all!This book is about a 93 year old man in a assistant living home that is recalling the time he spent in the circus as a young man after his parents got killed in a car accident. I was really expecting it to be more happy upbeat book about the circus but there was very little "happy" in this book! Some parts were so hard to read and I had to keep myself reading, not because the writing was bad or the book was bad but because some parts were just heart wrenching that it was hard to read without crying or at least on the verge of it, or wanting to go and kill August!The writing was amazing the author has amazing talents and I never expected the ending! I was actually fairly pissed off when Jacob didn't get to go to the circus and was thinking that I was going to be pretty upset with the ending but it caught me off guard and I ended the book smiling and crying at the same time.Amazing book read it!

Delivers Right to the End. A pleasure to read.

by Digital Rights

I have read a bunch of novels recently that kept me engrossed for the first 70-80% and then faded badly. Water for Elephants is worth reading right to the satisfying ending. It is very well paced and has interesting twists and all the characters seemed real to me.I had never considered the 1930's touring circus as a basis for writing a novel. Now I want to learn more about it. That's because Gruen does such a nice job describing it. The characters (and the animals!) are very human and I think she captures the time they lived in quite well. I am impressed that there are over 1000 reviews and still more coming for a book that's been out now for over 4 years. It speaks to some of the universal qualities that appealed to me and perhaps other readers. The lead character is interesting, he's human and he has reflected on a life well lead while yearning for more. I see a little bit of my father in there!One thing I am always looking for is how well a writer can give voice to a character that is so different from him or herself. Ms Gruen as a modern woman writing in the first person a man in the 1930's does very well in making Jacob a believable character. The writing is tight, swift and it was a pleasure to read.

Step Right Up....

by DJY51

For several years, various animal rights organizations have campaigned against circuses, citing the cruelty inflicted upon animals. Gruen shows how cruelty permeated the institution.This is a wonderful novel about love and decadence, greed and control, and cruelty and tenderness. It starts weakly, where the protagonist discovers his parents were killed in a freak traffic accident. He hops a train, and winds up working for a circus. But don't despair, I promise it's worth finishing.Gruen's characters are vividly drawn. Hierarchies amongst performers, workers and management prevail. Descriptions are so vivid, you can almost smell the hay, and everything else so accurately described.This is a wonderful window into life in a circus, with all it's horrors and despite them, it's draw.Well done!


by Jack Lechelt "Jackyred"

Water for Elephants was a fantastic book. Easy to read and interesting. Most impressively, a topic that I never gave much thought to, Depression-Era travelling train circuses, was something I enjoyed reading about. To be honest, I never knew there was such a topic. Now I'm wondering if there are any Industrial Revolution cat juggling books out there that I should be reading. Anyway, Gruen seemed to do a decent amount or research for the book, so I learned a little something about the topic. The best part of the book was the fantastic ending. More books should end like that.

A Great Conversation Piece

by Jacob's Beloved

This is one of those books that I read because I loved the movie first. So, I was quite surprised when I read how the book begins - with the murder of one of the main characters. When I further realized that August does not own the Benzini Brothers, I began to see the movie as its own story separate from the book.Jacob is by far the most interesting character of the book, especially since he tells the story as an old man in a nursing home - and has the wisdom and experience to go with his age. His emotions are infectious and I longed to sit down with him and listen to all of his stories in person way before I finished the book.August is the kind of villain that is confusing in his evil deeds - he has schizophrenia - which makes it somewhat unfair to dislike him so much. His irrational behavior has been exploited for the almighty dollar by Uncle Al - but the real villain tends to fade into the background.Marlena is beautiful to the point of angelic, very little of what she does can be considered wrong in any way, as she is a victim struggling for freedom for most of the book. She approaches August's mood swings with the same caution due a wild animal, and remains faithful to him despite her personal feelings, and does not leave until he first betrays her. Considering how women today will leave their husbands for any reason, I admire her strong morals.The background is set during the Great Depression, which made for many intense situations as the circus struggled to profit, as well as the survival of the cast of characters. Though I studied this period in American history, the direct experience gave me a clearer idea of the desperation of people alive during this time - how easily morals could be put on hold for the sake of another mouthful of food or another coin in the pocket. So many men of the circus would work without pay for the promise of another meal and unending hope that life could still improve.Rosie, the elephant, is also one of the most fascinating characters in the book. She proved to be only one example of how animals were exploited to the point of cruelty for profit. I could not help wondering where the animal activists were.Needless to say, this book sparked many conversations and inspired many moments of personal contemplation for me. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it.


by jade19721 "jade19721"

Jacob Jankowski, the main character, is a 90 or 93 year old man in a nursing home and he tells the story of how he wound up joining a circus in his early 20's. His parents are both killed in a car accident and finds out that his parents have mortaged everything to pay for his tuition at Cornell Vet school. Figuring that he is unable to continue his education and he jumps on a train in the middle of the night running away from everything he had known. The train that he winds up on is a circus train.He befriends several individuals and winds up working for the outfit. One particular person is a married woman named Marlena. Jacob's boss is Marlena's husband, August. August is a bit off mentally to say the least.One of the most remarkable and memorable characters in the book is an elephant that the circus aquired named Rosie. When she is first aquired August believes she is dumbest animal on earth because she would not do anything that they tried to get her to do. Because of this August beats Rosie on a regulart basis until Jacob by accident discovers that she only understands commands given to her in Polish. After that discovery Rosie is the star of the show alongside of Marlena.Things don't stay rosy for long. August has more fits, ex circus employee's who were thrown off the train catch up, and performers get sick and tired of what has been happening. It all comes together in a pretty horrific, yet kind of an amusing scene in the end.Not only did I enjoy the story of Jacob's circus days, but I also enjoyed Jacob's narration about getting old. It really makes you think about how we treat the elderly and how we should be treating them.

Still reading but the beginning is great

by Jaimal Yogis "Author of Saltwater Buddha: a s...

Still reading but the beginning is fantastic. Animal stampede's, a circus, mystery and suspense. What's not to like?

Expectation Gap

by James Hamill "book maven"

When a book is a best seller and has gotten the reviews this book had I expected something better. In the end, I felt like the book was average. I am 26, and am generally not interested in reading books about depression era circuses and love triangles but I thought since this book got great reviews I would give it a shot. After all, the best book I read last year was the Devil in the White City and I figured if someone could make the 1893 world's fair interesting perhaps 1930s circuses would be interesting as well. Even with an open mind I couldn't get into the book. 40 or so pages about a 90 year old man - the remaining 300 he recalls his 3.5 months of his life in a circus when he was 22. first 100 pages were decent but then nothing real interesting after that. Bottom line, if you don't like circuses or reading books about love triangles - don't make the same misstake that I did and buy this book because it is a best seller with great reviews. If thats what you enjoy, then yeah, you'll probably like it.

Best circus novel I've ever read

by James Montgomery "diamondjim"

It's also the only circus novel I've ever read. This is an entertaining drama novel with a love triangle. The characters are nicely fleshed out, and there is a nice to and fro between Jacob's current life as a ninety year old and his adventures in the circus. Gruen does a charming job of describing Jacob as an old man and the ending is very good. Whilst the book is good I think it has been lucky that it has benefitted from great marketing and a big budget film as there are other books which are more powerful & more deserving than this book that have not received any recognition.Enjoyably recommended.

Entertaining and enjoyable piece of fiction, but if you're only looking for romance novels, don't buy it.

by Jane

I was visiting a local independent bookstore and asked the person in charge of romance novels for suggestions. She named several books for me including Water for Elephants, which she insisted was great. I was hesitant because it was not shelved in the romance section, but I tried it. I figured romance readers must like this nonromance book, for her to suggest it. Fiction lovers might rate this 4 or 5 stars, but since it is not my preferred genre, I gave it 3 stars which simply means "I liked it." It was an interesting piece of fiction. There were a variety of interesting and different types of characters including bad guys, good guys and friendships. I enjoyed it, and I learned what circus life was like in 1931 including interactions with the animals. I assume the author was reasonably historically accurate regarding circus life at that time.The story is told from Jacob's perspective when he was in his early 20s and in his early 90s. Shortly before he was to graduate from Cornell veterinary school, his parents died, and the bank took all their property. Jacob was too upset to sit for his final exams. He left school and got a job with the Benzini Brothers circus, acting as vet for the animals. He spent 3 months with that circus. The elephant Rosie had a wonderful role. Jacob developed a relationship with Marlena who was married to August the animal trainer. August was physically abusive to animals, Marlena and others.Sexual language: mild. Number of sex scenes: two. Setting: 1931 and around 2001 circus traveling within the U.S. Copyright: 2006. Genre: circus, human relationships fiction.

Fabulous read, compelling story

by Janet Lillian "janlil"

One of those books that I didn't want to end. The first chapters pull you in quickly. The history of the circus is absolutely fabulous. And Sara Gruen's handling of the main character is awesome. You see life through his eyes as a young man and as an elderly person. Fascinating. Don't miss it.

Love it!

by Janie

Love Love Love this book!!! I think the story is wonderful. If you are an animal lover, you will definitely enjoy this book. It is also a love story with the main character falling in love not only with a woman, but I think with the animals. It is a story of friendships and a story of a man at the end of his days looking back and maybe finding that his days are not over. And I think I love Rosie!

Beautifully written

by Japan Reader

This is a beautifully constructed book. The circus atmosphere is rich and detailed, and it's redolent of its time period. The images are strong and the pace, while not fast, is stately -- perhaps the way an elephant moves??I deducted a star for two reasons. First, it seemed that some leaps in the story came too quickly. Jacob should have spent a bit more time with Rosie before he made the statement "I was close to falling in love with her;" that happened a bit too fast to be believable. Also, the ENDING was awful: contrived and saccharine. That was a huge disappointment, after the rest of the book.Overall, though, a literary and very good read, two things that don't always go together.


by Jarod Wilson

I think that most people seem to either love this novel or hate it, but I have a hard time stirring myself to care much either way. It is by no means a standout book, but neither is it so horrible that I couldn't force myself through it.The best writing in the book, I think, are the sequences with Jacob as an old man. They ring true, and have a poignancy regarding the lives and treatment of the elderly that stirs some guilty discomfort. Leaving aside the over-the-top, sappy, happy Hollywood ending, these sequences are satisfying and believable.The larger narrative, that of Jacob in his twenties, also has an air of authenticity, at least in terms of feeling (to an outsider) like a dingy, dangerous, depression-era circus. It is successful at creating a strong sense of the world. But I never found myself getting wrapped up in the stories of any of the individual characters. In other words, I just didn't get pulled in.Some people probably take offense at the blatant sexuality of a handful of scenes, and at the mistreatment of animals in several more. I am not personally bothered by these, as they are pertinent to the story, but neither do they stir me to care much about the outcome of the story. In the end, it was an easy read with a vivid world, but lacking (for me) much character-driven interest. So I'm on the fence about whether I like it or not. But who says I have to pick a side?

Well executed and entertaining story

by Jarucia Jaycox "~A Pink American"

I first heard about Water for Elephants as a project that began during NaNoWrimo a few years back when I was trying NaNoWrimo for the first time. It was inspiring to hear.Yet it took me years to get around to reading this book despite many recommendations.I LOVED it!The author did a lovely job of handling so many characters big and small. She kept solid control over their little quirks, tics, etc.I particularly enjoyed seeing everything first-person present through Jacob's eyes, but I do think he was more of a woman's man than a man's man. Not that I need him to be a boar or a brute, but he was a touch more on the emotional swing side than I generally like in male characters in stories of this ilk.Didn't really matter though, because the whole package of this tale enchanted me.Wholeheartedly recommend (but be prepared to be disappointed with the movie if you read the book first).

A unique enchanting and wonderful story

by JasonD

This was such a well done novel. If you are looking for something different, something entertaining, and unique....then you have found it! This story follows the life of a young man that joins the circus. It has themes of coming of age, adventure, abuse, courage, love, and nostalgia. This will truly stand out as one of my favorite books. The author did a wonderful job. This novel is MUCH recommended.

Rosie and Friends

by Jayne P. Bowers "jayne bowers"

Yes, I know the ending seemed a little farfetched, but I LOVED it...and the rest of the book too. Being ignorant about the behind the scenes drama and actions of a circus, Sara Gruen educated me with her well-researched Water for Elephants. The novel was informative and well, graphic at times, and I'll never again enter the big top without feeling some compassion for the roustabouts, the performers, and the animals...especially the elephants. Ah, Rosie. Silver Star too.In addition to educating her readers about the traveling circus life of a bygone era, Gruen also tells a vivid and believable tale about a vet student who, because of a "cruel twist of fate," runs away to join the circus. Although the primary story revolves around Jacob and Marlena, the author does a fabulous job of character development as she describes Camel, August, Uncle Al, and other assorted circus folks in a story of love, cruelty, sadness, grief, and triumph.About that ending, I still think it's awesome and quite believable, especially for someone like Jacob who lived his life to the fullest. Maybe there's a lesson in that for all of us.

Great Novel

by J. Bosiljevac

When his parents are killed in a car accident, 23-year-old Jacob Jankowski, in a state of shock, skips out on his veterinary school finals and hops a passing train. The train happens to be that of the Flying Squadron of the Benzi Brothers Greatest Show On Earth, a middle-of-the-road depression era circus. Jacob earns a job as the circus' vet, caring for a small menagerie of animals.The story is told by a 90- or 93-year-old (he can't remember which) Jacob living in a nursing home many years later. And although this aspect adds depth to Jacob's character, it dragged a little for me. However, the main story, that of Jacob's adventure with the circus, is full of energy. Parts of his romantic involvement with one of the circus performers felt a little predictable, but most of the story was engrossing. Gruen's meticulous research shows throughout the book. The story is never bogged down in details, but her vibrant writing brings the circus to life so well that at times I felt like I was watching a really good movie.

What a pleasure to read.....Great book!

by J. Brandt

After reading the reviews of this book I knew I would not be disappointed. This is the first book I have read from this author and I found myself interested in the book from the first sentence.The main character (Jacob Jankowski) starts the story as a 90 (or is that 93?) year old man in a nursing home living out his life. He is unhappy and realizes that his kids and the world have forgotten him. He then thinks back to his early adult life when he was in school to become a veterinarian. He takes us back to those years of the Great Depression and the adventures he had while working for a small traveling circus.The book never lets you down and the characters that Jacob Jankowski meets will keep you interested. It is a book that, in my opinion, lays open the human experience. At times, the book takes a romantic and even very sensual tone. At other times, the cruelty of the Great Depression and the desperation of people who worked hoping for some type of income or food will remind you of the harsh life of those times.The book spends some time going back and forth from present day to the days when Jacob Jankowski was part of the circus. The ending surprised me and when I finished the book I was glad that I had the pleasure of reading such a great piece of fiction.

Nice Scope; Characters Fall Flat

by J. Conrad Guest "J. Conrad Guest"

An interesting premise, Water for Elephants: a melodrama that takes place in a traveling circus during the first half of the last century. Throw in forbidden love, an abusive husband, murder, and a few other plot twists, and you're assured a best-seller followed by a Hollywood movie with a topnotch cast.I went to the circus as a boy; I never wanted to run away with it, but I enjoyed it; then again, I never feared clowns.I've had Water for Elephants on my reading list for more than a year; it was highly recommended to me but it just kept getting pushed down on my reading list. Finally, with the movie due out, I opted to make reading it a priority.I won't say I didn't enjoy it, but I can't say either that it's deserving of all the accolades it's received. Author Sara Gruen obviously had a passion for the circus, as evidenced by the research that went into this piece and the period.Normally I enjoy melodramas--Victor Hugo's Laughing Man comes to mind. But Elephants, for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, just missed.Maybe it's just me. Some call Romeo and Juliet the greatest love story ever written. I happen to think it's the most overrated piece of literature ever penned. I mean, come on, Romeo falls instantly in love with Juliet the first time he ever lays eyes on her, and only after they part does he realize he forgot to ask her for her name. Can true love be founded on such a shallow premise? No, he's just reacting to hormones. It's young love, which is not really love at all, merely lust.At first I thought it was because Ms. Gruen wrote the piece from the perspective of a male protagonist, and like a lot of cross-gender writing, it somehow lacks a certain authenticity. But Jacob is a likeable enough young man, flawed; recently orphaned, he joins the circus to what we in the 21st century would say, "Find himself." He certainly is attracted to Marlena, initially, for all the reasons a 20-year-old young man would be: she looks great in her pink sequined riding costume.But it wears old after a while--we want to see a relationship grow between them. What the story reveals is that Marlena, married, suffers from Battered Woman Syndrome. Her husband is mentally unbalanced and jealous to the point of insanity. He accuses her of infidelity with Jacob even though nothing has happened--except in their own mercenary hearts.Well, we were ready to impeach Jimmy Carter for admitting he'd lusted after women in his heart. Even the bible teaches that if your thoughts are impure, if you're unfaithful in your mind, you're just as guilty as if you'd committed the act. But nothing has happened between these two innocents except a shared kiss. But because her husband is such a beast we accept that it is okay and feel sympathetic toward Marlena since she is committed to make it work with her unbalanced husband because her parents previously told her, when she wanted to come home after admitting to them the marriage had been a mistake, that she had to lie in the bed she'd made.Yet I found neither Jacob nor Marlena very sympathetic; neither character was very memorable, even if the writing was sharp, crisp and authentic to the period. My sympathies lay with Rosie, the poor elephant who suffered such abuse at the hands of Marlena's husband she, the elephant that is, eventually killed him.Now that I've had more than a week to think about Elephants, to capture what seems to be an elusive reason for my indifference to this book, it occurs to me that a lot of books these days are written in this fashion, they expect the reader to connect with the character in their own way.I understand what that means and I don't disagree with it--until it's taken to an extreme and I'm presented with cardboard characters, caricatures.I want to connect with characters, not become them. I want to see how others respond to adversity. I can always later compare what I would've done, how I would've thought, were I in those circumstances.I guess, in the end, that's what was missing for me in Elephants: I just couldn't connect with Jacob or Marlena.Or, maybe at my age I just don't get young love anymore.

Very enjoyable despite my concerns about animal cruelty

by J. Davis "davis"

I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to finish this book, once purchasing, because of the comments from reviewers about animal cruelty. I am very, very sensitive to that topic, so I was leery, and I imagine others out there may be as well. However, my desire to read the best seller, and my husband's assurances (after listening to it), that he thought I would be ok, convinced me to listen to it. For those of you that might have this same problem, I think you should go ahead. I really enjoyed this story and it's worth listening to. Yes, I could have done without some of the scenes, but it all turns out in the end, and the author doesn't get too terribly descriptive or excessive - so that you just can't listen to another second. Also, these scenes are limited, and they are kind of an integral part to the story. I listened to the audio version and the narrators are excellent as well. Very enjoyable story!

Circus life revealed through the memories of Jacob

by jeanne-scott

Water For Elephants tells the story of one man's life with the circus as the backdrop to all of his experiences.Jacob is a student studying to become a veterinarian when his parents are killed in an accident and he is left with no family, no money and he walks away from that life. He ends up picking up some work with a traveling circus and his life takes a turn that he never anticipated. He becomes a part of the circus family (as dysfunctional as can be..........but they put the fun in dysFUNctional!)Jacob recalls his life, while he is over 90 years old and relegated to a nursing home. A nurse mentions that the circus is in town and everyone will have the opportunity to attend a show. As he sits at a dinner table with several other elderly folks, one man looking to gain attention from the women makes the claim that he "..used to carry the water for the elephants." Jacob calls him a liar, because Jacob knows the amount of water that an elephant consumes, and those vast quantities could not be carried by one man. When a nurse asks if Jacob worked in a circus he does not answer her, and that is when his memories are brought to life. As he waits for his outing, the days pass and he relives the last 70+ years of his life in his mind. The stories that are told about how the circus works, the value that is placed on the money coming in, the care or lack there of, for the animals, the living conditions on the trains for the circus workers...........all these things and more come alive in Jacob's tale.While it seems that the story starts a bit hesitantly, soon the reader is caught up in the tale, what happens to the different people, the relationship between the "stars" and the workers, many aspects of a traveling circus are revealed, even in the treatment of the animals!This story is an interesting portrayal of life in a traveling circus, and the ending is an unexpected one that takes you unaware.This is Sara Gruen's first novel and she is nominated for two Quill writing awards.

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