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Water for Elephants

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  910,490 ratings  ·  51,102 reviews

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.

By morning, he's landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall, he's in love.

In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality.

Hardcover, 335 pages
Published May 26th 2006 by Algonquin Books (first published January 1st 2006)
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Sherri Pelletier I don't think that it was written for women, though if you are looking for action packed, it is not. It is more of a human study, the life of a man…moreI don't think that it was written for women, though if you are looking for action packed, it is not. It is more of a human study, the life of a man during hard times. I think there are some lessons to be learned from it. Give it a try. (less)
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Community Reviews

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I think I expected too much out of this novel and therefore had room only for disappointment. Though I finished the book in its entirety, I wrote a short review on my blog about halfway through, expounding on the aspects of the book that irritated me. I have adapted it herein.

First, the main "heroine," Marlena, is incredibly flat & boring. The narrator/main character, Jacob, is clearly infatuated with her, but I'm not sure why other than she looks good in pink sequins. She's married to her a
Dec 29, 2007 Rachel rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: romance lovers

I really wanted to like this book. I think my low opinion is partially my fault, because I drove into the story with high expectations due to rave reviews. I need to learn not to do that.

The beginning of this novel was excellent. A Ivy League dropout, who formerly studied to be a vet, runs away and joins the circus. The time period? The Depression and Prohibition America - a historical era of uncertainty and chaos. I was looking for an intriguing tale of a
I wanted to like this book. I really did. I even enjoyed the first couple of chapters and was prepared for an entertaining summer read Eventually, however, the lack of imagination, melodrama, and just plain bad writing did it in for me. At the risk of beating a dead horse (albeit a dead horse with tremendous appeal to book clubs across the United States), let me enumerate the problems (spoiler alert – not that I suggest you read this book anyway):

1. Neither the narrator, nor any of the other cha
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

I picked up Water for Elephants after seeing the movie. You know, the one with "that Twilight guy" - who for a change was allowed to smile. And to have other facial expressions besides "permanently constipated". The math is simple:

Drum roll: Rosie the elephant works better than Ex-Lax!

But on to the book now. In addition to Jacob Jankowski's "love affair" with Rosie the elephant (and a noticeably less sweet affair with Marlena-the-bland-chick) we get a parallel story of J

RJ McGill
Oct 02, 2007 RJ McGill rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Shelves: reviewed
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 between family and friends and back again, until the tattered, time worn pages resemble the books beloved central character and narrator.Jacob Jankowski, just days from the final exams at Cornell University that would have attached the respectable Dr. of Veterinary medicine forever to his name, had his world forever alter ...more
Now THIS is a Good Book!
When I finished reading Water for Elephants, goose bumps covered my skin. Now this is a good book! Immediately engrossed, I had a hard time putting it down as I read the story of Jacob Jankowski and his reminiscence of days with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth--otherwise known as a train circus in 1930's America.

A talented writer and storyteller, Sara Gruen takes readers on a bumpy and tense train ride through history. This tale defines Americana. Ther
Beth F.
Just to put it out there, I’ll admit straight off the bat that I’m one of the people who enjoyed this book. It was a fast read (which I always appreciate, because I’m perpetually drowning in a list of books TBR) and it was fairly easy to get through. I also didn’t see the end coming until a few pages before it actually happened, which probably added immensely to my enjoyment factor.

I’ve been reading all the criticisms of this book in an attempt to organize my opinions after reading this book. It
April 24, 2008 edition of Coastal View News

The glitz and grit, glam and sham of depression-era circus life limps along in Sara Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” with little aid from her shoddy prose, predictable plot and underdeveloped metaphor. Although the book has a flashy appearance and is easily digested, it offers less nutritional value than promised.

When his parents suddenly and tragically die, Jacob Jankowski quits veterinarian school at Cornell University just before graduation and finds hi
Kat Kennedy
Oct 11, 2010 Kat Kennedy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like the circus. Or People who don't like the circus. Or people who have bolt cutters.
I can count the number of times I've been to the circus on one hand. Actually, realistically, on one finger.

We were taken once by my grandparents when I was about five. First, last and only time. My parents hate the idea of the circus and scorned it with all the pretentious uninterest that would likely scar their children for life, causing them to grow up embittered, solitary and convicted to write scathing, snarky reviews on GoodReads as a form or self expression in order to share their own mis
This is a very good example of why one should have no expectations when going into a book. I wanted this book to be great. I thought this book was going to be great. A depression era traveling circus and all that entails? Awesome! The author’s voice being likened to Mr. Irving? Awesome! The fact that damn near everyone LOVED it? Promising! The only other circus book I’ve read was GEEK LOVE, and holy shit. Awesome! All of this lead me to believe that I was about to be blown away.

But, it wasn’t aw
This book is so terrible it made me physically angry. It's predictable, cliched and unimaginative. The good-hearted poor boy meets the good-hearted beautiful girl, who's involved with the bad-hearted, controlling man. Whatever will happen?

Seriously. Don't buy this book. I know the cover is pretty, and the title is intriguing, and the summary is enticing. It's all razzle-dazzle. Kinda like a circus itself.
Jul 29, 2007 Brenda rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: cotton candy junkies
I just finished reading "Water for Elephants" out on my deck. Just boo. That's my review. Boo. Not a loud boo, or an emphatic boo, just your average boo. Water for Elephants equals boo.

Why do I give this a boo rating? Mostly for the dialogue. The author tries to explain 1930s carnival vernacular through a green carnie's questions about the world around him. And the questions come out over simplified and make for unrealistic and stilted conversations.

Sara Gruen also tries to intersperse a 90-yea
I wasn’t planning on reading this story, but my co-worker insisted. Since we had so much fun reading and discussing The Help, I decided to borrow the audio book from the library.

Craig enjoyed the story more than I did and gave it four stars, while I gave it just three. We both enjoyed the alternating perspectives, from that of Jacob when he’s in his early 20’s and working for the Benzini Brothers circus to the old Jacob, when he’s 90 (or 93) and living in a nursing home. We loved the large cast
In the beginning of Water For Elephants Jacob Jankowski tells us that he is ninety or ninety-three. One or the other. He's not really sure anymore. His body betrayed him years ago and Jacob now fears that his mind isn’t far behind. Shuffling along miserably behind his walker, he’s living out his final days in the nursing home and hating every minute of it. Just another invisible senior citizen who’s family and the world as a whole has forgotten about.

When the circus comes to town and sets up it
Izetta Autumn
Somehow I feel that I have to defend why I liked this book, even though there's no one saying why I shouldn't have enjoyed it. Here's what I found most touching: the author took an fantastic premise - an orphan running away to the circus, a love triangle, an elephant, and the Great Depression and weaved a tale that doesn't make you say "bullocks," at every page. Gruen outlines use of anachronistic story telling is effective and she is skilled at moving the story along, even more adept at highlig ...more
Will Byrnes
Ladies and gentlemen. Direct your attention to the performer in print. You will be amazed, dazzled and mystified by the daring feats you are about to witness. Well, that might be overstating a bit. The story does open with drama, though. A circus menagerie has gotten loose and there is mayhem. The narrator, Jacob, sees the ringmaster murdered. We then scoot ahead to the present. Jacob is in his 90s and looks back, revisiting his ghosts. From here, we flip back and forth between Jacob in the pres ...more
I have a problem with books when the nicest thing people can think of to say about them is, "It is based on a true story," or, "At least it was well researched." It is the same as saying a woman "has a great personality" or a man is "super sweet". In the case of fiction, as with these backwards insults to humans, the "based on a true story" and "well researched" labels actually mean that the books are ugly or stupid. That is not to say I am against true stories or research, but if it's the nices ...more
Tracy Rhodes
I do like a good vintage-travelling-circus story - "Geek Love", HBO's "Carnivale" (which I was really sad to see cancelled), etc... In fact, this book reminded me of "Carnivale" - I had a hard time believing the author's idea to write the book wasn't inspired by the series.

I liked the perspective from which the story was told - a feisty 90-something old man reflecting in flashbacks on his adventures in a travelling circus 70 years earlier, while lamenting the indignities of his current nursing-h
Absolutely wonderful.
Aug 28, 2007 Heidi rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
I read this book in one day. It pulls you in.

I learned a lot about the old traveling circuses and life with them. That was really interesting.

But the most important thing I got from this book was the narrative from the perspective of Jacob as an old man. I have a hard time truly making myself realize that elderly people were once like me. They were young, with lives just like mine (in the important ways). When talking to elderly people, I spend my energy being sympathetic about their problems an
Oct 19, 2007 Tiffany rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fiction lovers
Wow! That is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this book. It was pure magic for me. I grabbed it from the library as soon as I saw it on the shelf. I must admit that I had never heard of the book or the author, but was attracted to the colors on the cover. Now I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but in this case I did. The cover gives no synopsis, just some blurbs and quotes from people who have read it. I didn't know what to expect, but after the first chapter I was hook ...more
Nov 03, 2010 Joyzi rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 18 years old and above, Crazy Rob Pat fans
Recommended to Joyzi by: clevvertv
Book Review for Water for Elephants


Caution: Folks as much as I want everybody to read this book I have to say that this is definitely not a YA book. It contains offensive language, violence and over the top sex.

Before anything else, I'm going to share this song Satisfy by Vedera because some guy in Youtube make this a soundtrack for the book and I think the song captures the emotions in the book accurately.

♫♪If there was a way to try and make it back
Back to where we started from
Could I find a
If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. It has everything one could want -- romance, intrigue, mystery, a murder, and a little bit of humor. The characters are instantly real, and the plot is fresh.

I could go on for days and days, but I am going to stop right now so you can go read this book. You MUST read this book.
With 48,386 reviews, including this one, most of what could have already been said about WATER FOR ELEPHANTS has probably already been said. But that’s not going to stop me from trying, because I have confidence and determination and I often find myself in lineups where I’m the one who appears out of line. And when weirdness and eccentricities are encouraged, it tends to work better than Miracle-Gro and direct sunlight and watering.

Jacob Jankowski proves more than a little odd beneath his shirt
Sadly, this book was a bit of a disappointment for me. I really enjoyed it at the beginning, and the writing definitely had a great flow. Also, the overall atmosphere of the 1920s, the circus, the animals in the menagerie, the rivalry between workers and performers were exceptionally well done.

Unfortunately, though, the main aspect of the book - the romance - fell completely flat for me. Marlena was such a flat character and I couldn't bring up any sympathy for her or her sitution. The chemistr
Edward (The Book Pusher) Lorn
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Review Let's get the bad stuff out of the way so I can get on with telling you why you need to read this book, like yesterday.

First, if you haven't read WATER FOR ELEPHANTS yet, SKIP THE PROLOGUE! For your own enjoyment, do not read the first 3 or 4 pages. No lie, it's the climax of the entire book. Why the author and publisher thought that beginning the book with the end of the book was a good idea I'll never understand, but it's the equivalent of SE7EN beginning with Brad P
Water For Elephants, walks the memories of ninety (or is it ninety-three) year old Jacob Jancowski, who recalls his younger self in the days of circus life. The illusions, the scandals, the friendship, The hardships, the bonds and the secrets he's kept...

I found myself completely fascinated by this world. Seriously didn't think I'd love this book as much as I did. I only wanted to read it cause my favorite actor is staring in it.
But hey, there it is.

Water For Elephants is a born classic. I remem
Note: This is a review for the audio version of Water for Elephants. So I'll be incorporating my thoughts on the novel itself as well as the quality of the audio.

"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent."--- Theodor Seuss Geisel, Horton Hatches the Egg

That is the quote at the opening of Water for Elephants. And it couldn't be more fitting.

The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth may very well not have been what its name proclaimed it t
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Mar 22, 2014 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Circa: dirty 30's
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Marg Madden
Reading this is like peeking through the tent flaps at a carnival freak show – a feeling of fascination mixed with revulsion but impossible to look away. The author does a terrific job portraying circus life during the Great Depression.
Tolstoy it’s not, with a couple of notable exceptions the characters are cookie-cutter. Dastardly villains abound along with the token helpless heroine, but the main character Jacob in his role of circus vet is perfection. He joins the circus young and penniless
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2015 Reading Chal...: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen 3 13 Jan 27, 2015 12:29AM  
Book ending vs movie ending 28 626 Jan 11, 2015 11:13AM  
Symbolism: What is the "Water" and who is the "Elephant"? 37 1632 Jan 11, 2015 10:49AM  
2015 Reading Chal...: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen 9 49 Jan 11, 2015 06:12AM  
The biggest difference between Jacob as 23 and Jacob as 93? 5 89 Dec 30, 2014 02:29PM  
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Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants has become one of the most beloved and bestselling novels of our time. Readers fell in love with Water for Elephants and its story of Jacob, a young man tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, and Rosie, the untrainable elephant. This instant #1 New York Times bestseller is now available in 44 langua ...more
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“When two people are meant to be together, they will be together. It's fate.” 735 likes
“With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.” 661 likes
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