Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

4.07 (1,135,823 ratings by Goodreads)
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When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits - the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth - a travelling circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 561 pages
  • 137.16 x 208.28 x 30.48mm | 566.99g
  • Detroit, MI, United States
  • English
  • Large type / large print
  • Large type / large print edition
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1594132003
  • 9781594132001
  • 35,059

Review quote

" "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. . . . 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." -- The New York Times Book Review
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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.
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Rating details

1,135,823 ratings
4.07 out of 5 stars
5 38% (436,967)
4 38% (426,963)
3 18% (204,314)
2 4% (50,686)
1 1% (16,893)

Our customer reviews

I had seen "Water for Elephants" on many bestseller lists and people reading it on the train on my way to work, and had picked it up and put it back down several times at the bookstore before I actually bought it to read. I am not particularly a fan of the circus, so didn't think I would enjoy the book as much as I actually did. The book was brilliantly written and the story drew me in almost from the beginning of the book. Definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves to read.show more
by Lauren Jolley
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.
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