Water for Elephants
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Water for Elephants

4.06 (1,079,550 ratings by Goodreads)
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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.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 350 pages
  • 134.62 x 195.58 x 27.94mm | 317.51g
  • ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL
  • United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • black & white illustrations
  • 1565125606
  • 9781565125605
  • 49,794

Flap copy

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. Jacob was there because his luck had run out-- orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive " ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act-- in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival. Surprising, poignant, and funny, "Water for Elephants" is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.show more

Review quote

"[An] arresting new novel. . . . At its finest, Water for Elephants resembles stealth hits like 'The Giant's House, ' by Elizabeth McCracken, or 'The Lovely Bones, ' by Alice Sebold, books that combine outrageously whimsical premises with crowd-pleasing romanticism. . . . Black-and-white photographs of real American circus scenes from the first half of the century are interspersed throughout the novel, and they brilliantly evoke the dignified power contained in the quieter moments of this unusual brotherhood. . . . With a showman's expert timing, [Gruen] saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale."--New York Times Book Review "Vibrant . . . gritty, sensual, and charged with dark secrets involving love, murder, and a majestic, mute heroine (Rosie the Elephant)."--Parade "Novelist Gruen unearths a lost world with her rich and surprising portrayal of life in a traveling circus in the '30s. An emotional tale that will please history buffs--and others."--People "[This] sprightly tale has a ringmaster's crowd-pleasing pace."--Entertainment Weekly "A compulsive page-turner . . . a fascinating setting and a richly anecdotal story that's enjoyable right up to the final, inevitable revelation."--The Onion "A rich surprise, a delightful gem springing from a fascinating footnote to history that absolutely deserved to be mined."--Denver Post "One of the many pleasures of this novel is the opportunity to enter a bizarrely coded and private world with its own laws, superstitions and vocabulary. . . . I couldn't bear to be torn away from it for a single minute."--Chicago Tribune "You'll get lost in the tatty glamour of Gruen's meticulously researched world, from spangled equestrian pageantry and the sleazy side show to an ill-fated night at a Chicago speak-easy."--Washington Post "Riveting." --The Toronto Globe and Mail "Life is good for Jacob Jankowski. He's about to graduate from veterinary school and about to bed the girl of his dreams. Then his parents are killed in a car crash, leaving him in the middle of the Great Depression with no home, no family, and no career...This lushly romantic novel travels back in forth in time between Jacob's present day in a nursing home and his adventures in the surprisingly harsh world of 1930s circuses...just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convinces you to suspend your disbelief."--Booklist "Old-fashioned and endearing, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story."--Library Journal "Lovely and mesmerizing...genuine talent."--Kirkus Reviews A "page-turner...Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book."--Publishers Weekly "In this thrilling, romantic story set in a traveling circus in the 1930s, Sara Gruen has a Big Top's worth of vivid characters and an exhilarating narrative that kept me up all night. From the perseverance of a terrier named Queenie, to the charm of Rosie the elephant, this masterpiece of storytelling is a book about what animals can teach people about love." --Susan Cheever, author of My Name Is Bill "The circus, the Great Depression, a complex elephant, equally complex love, the mists and twists of memory articulated in the utterly winning voice of a very old man who's seen it all--these are the irresistible elements of Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen has written an utterly transporting novel richly full of the stuff of life." --Robert Olen Butler "So much more than a tale about a circus, Water for Elephants is a compelling journey not only under the big top, but into the protagonist's heart. Sara Gruen uses her talent as a writer to bring that world alive for the reader: I could smell it, taste it, feel every word of it. This is a fiction reader's dream come true." --Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo Get Lucky "Gorgeous, brilliant, and superbly plotted, Water for Elephants swept me into the world of the circus during the Depression and it did not let me go until the very end. I don't think it has let me go even now. Sara Gruen has a voice to rival John Irving's, and I am hopelessly, unabashedly in love with this book. Read it." --Joshilyn Jackson, author of Gods in Alabama "An entirely original, captivating story of finding love in a down-at-the-heels traveling circus in the Great Depression. Sara Gruen writes with great tenderness and breathtaking drama which makes the novel impossible to put down." --Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozartshow more

Rating details

1,079,550 ratings
4.06 out of 5 stars
5 38% (412,141)
4 38% (406,742)
3 18% (195,545)
2 5% (48,817)
1 2% (16,305)

Our customer reviews

I didn't know what to expect from this book. It was one of those instances when you buy a book on the mere whim; for me, the title seemed interesting. It seems a silly reason to buy a book because it had 'elephant' in the title, but I'll admit that is exactly what I did. The cover is beautiful and the backdrop, the 1930s American circus, was intriguing. Often with historical novels, there is the tendency to focus too much on the historical detail, as if that is what the reader is looking for; some google or wikipedia-esque history lesson. I am a history buff, but novels need to primarily focus on the story and character: and this book does exactly that. I enjoyed the way in which Sara Gruen weaved the circus backdrop into the main plot line. The detail in which she built the circus lifestyle, with the scenery and animals and language, felt so realistic and normal that they merely helped shape and support the story of Jacob. This is one of those books where it feels so real and the characters seem to ring true in your memory: you've met the Uncle Als and the Augusts and you've been the Jacobs and the Marlenas. It's a cliche, but I honestly didn't want to put this down. It's one of those rare books you read from start to finish and wish it could keep going when you have. Recommend to anyone.show more
by H.
After watching the movie (which I liked), my sister gave me the book. I was really excited about reading it, I know it's a bestseller and that I was probably going to like it. I admit, the real reason that made me curious about this story was that Jacob, the protagonist, is a veterinarian, like me. Jacob is a young man who is about to end his studies, when life gives him an awful surprise. His parents are dead, and he is left with nothing. Running from his old life, he jumps into the train of a circus called The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. He is saved from being hurled out of the train only because he's a veterinarian. The circus have a lot of animals, and they need to be taken care of. Jacob is young, innocent and a veterinarian with a big love for animals. Taking care of the animals makes him happy, and that is how he met Marlena. Beautiful, fragile, but married. I really liked this book. I loved how the author described life at the circus. It's obvious she investigated about circus, the people who worked at them, how they function, and their animals. But what I liked more was the writing. The story is told by old Jacob. He's 90 years old, or 93, and his memories about the circus, his wife and his life don't die. He starts narrating the story, but suddenly you realize you are reading young Jacob while being at the circus. Overall, Water for Elephants was a book that grabbed me from the beginning. Although I wanted more emotion between Marlena and Jacob, it's a romantic story, full of action, love for animals and a magnificent circus.show more
by Maria Guajardo (GABY)
Oh how I loved this book! The story is told by its main character, Jacob who is now confined to a nursing home, reminiscing about his time spent in the circus. It tells of Jacob's life travelling in a circus during the Depression and of the harsh conditions for the workers in during this time. There are so many great characters in this novel that have great depth to them, including Rosie the Elephant. This is much more than a novel about the circus, it has a great story that everyone should do themselves a favour and read! I'm looking forward to seeing whether the movie can capture just what a truly captivating story this novel tells. Highly recommended.show more
by Lauren Jolley
Water for Elephants is the first adult novel I've read and it certainly didn't disappoint. The story starts off with ninety-three year old Jacob Jankowski recounting his life as a young man training at Cornell to be a veterinarian. He drops everything when his parents die and joins the circus. Jacob was a very easily liked character. I'd have to say the flash forwards were something I really enjoyed. Gruen's seamless writing between past and present is breathtaking. Reading the difference between an older Jacob as opposed to a young one was really intriguing. It was interesting to hear him describe how his body has aged from the vital, handsome young man he once was and how he sees himself as this decrepit old man now. It was so sad but quite hysterical at the same time. I didn't feel like I connected with Marlena too much. Yes, I liked her as a character, but I had a hard time seeing what Jacob thought was so special about her. A character I had a hard time deciding whether or not I liked, from the moment he was introduced, was August. In the beginning you want to like him when he's befriending Jacob, but when he starts slipping up and showing that he is really a very cruel man you immediately switch to despising him. Now Rosie... what can I say about Rosie? She is the cutest elephant ever! I love how Gruen wrote her with such a loveable personality. Well, really how she wrote most of the animals with such great characteristics. Bobo the monkey was also super adorable. Needless to say, something that I had a hard time with while reading this was the animal cruelty. A while back, I read an article from PETA on how elephants - most circus animals, really - are treated and it was just awful. So it was really hard reading it in gruesome detail. But hopefully, it'll make people realize how circus animals are treated so they can make a stand against it. Overall, Gruen has created a beautifully written novel. Her vivid descriptions and accurate portrayal of life in the circus during the Depression were captivating. Not once did I feel that the story dragged on and the ending left me satisfied. I also felt that the pictures of the circus at the beginning of the chapters were a nice touch. I can't wait to see if I love the movie as much as I loved the book. Rob better not disappoint! ;)show more
by Kayla (Shattered Memories Reviews)
Do you want to be transported to another age. Did you dream about running away to the circus? Does a touch of romance and a bit of mystery get your heart a thumping? Well this is the book for you. Sarah Gruen writes in the most readable way, from present day to memories of long ago past, this is a page turner. You can almost smell the animals, hear their roars and taste the fairy floss at the circus so descriptive are her words. You cannot help but feel pity and yet love for the 90 year old telling his story. You'll wish this story never ended, we want more! A fantastic book, one you'll recommend to friends.show more
by Gillian Taylor
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