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Water for Elephants

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,525,941 ratings  ·  60,875 reviews
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Algonquin Books (first published May 22nd 2006)
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Tracy Valentine Currently reading it, and I have to say no. The animal abuse is horrific and utterly disgusting. Yet Sara Gruen seems to LOVE it, because she lingers …moreCurrently reading it, and I have to say no. The animal abuse is horrific and utterly disgusting. Yet Sara Gruen seems to LOVE it, because she lingers on those scenes for pages at a time. Struggling through this book full of horrible abuse and one-dimensional cardboard cutout characters has made me dislike her not only as a writer, but as a person. (less)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,525,941 ratings  ·  60,875 reviews

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Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobooked
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 arrog
Rachel M.
Dec 27, 2007 rated it did not like it

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
Will Byrnes
Jan 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
May 29, 2008 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Caz (littlebookowl)
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned, audiobook
Oh man, this was lovely.
Jun 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: a-the-best
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 31, 2011 rated it liked it
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 Jacob th
Ahmad Sharabiani
Water for Elephants, 2007‭, Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants is a historical novel by Sara Gruen, written as part of National Novel Writing Month. Publication date: 26 May 2006 (1st edition).

The story is told as a series of memories by Jacob Jankowski, a 93-year-old man who lives in a nursing home. Jacob is told what to eat and what to do. As the memories begin, Jacob is a 23-year-old Polish American preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the deva
RJ McGill
Jul 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a historical fiction. I this book follows a man that is in a nursing home, but through out the book he has flash backs that bring us to his younger shelf. He work on the circus when he was younger. I have to say that some parts of the story was hard to read, but that was how life was back in the time point that the book flashes back too. We cannot change history now, but we should never forget it. That is why I love reading historical fiction and learning about parts of our history. I re ...more
Johann (jobis89)
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Life is the most spectacular show on earth.”

Apparently I love reading books set in the circus, who knew? The Night Circus was one of my favourite books from early last year and now Water for Elephants has joined it on my LOVE list!

I’m a sucker for stories that weave back and forth between the past and present day, it might just be one of my favourite literary techniques. Jacob Jankowski, who is in his 90s and currently residing in a nursing home, recounts the memories of his youth when he joine
Apr 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
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
Kristina Horner
Dec 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was PERFECT and I loved it. I want to read it again and again, and I can't recommend the audio book enough. ...more
Nov 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
It's truly admirable to place the plot on a moving train and its roving fairgrounds... it's like living in a cotton candy cloud. There were plenty of chances to dash the reader away, to make poetry out of the circus workers' vagrant conditions, to use the animals as characters, not just decor... to avoid cliche. This novel is written concisely, but with often description so vague the reader just glides over it. Also, the narrator is absolutely unreliable... oftentimes he seems more hero than hum ...more
Jul 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
4 stars!

It's the 1930's, in the midst of the great depression and prohibition. At 23, Jacob Jankowski is just days away from taking his final exams at Cornell and becoming a veterinarian. He plans to join his fathers practice. Then he gets the devastating news that both his parents were killed in an automobile accident. They were behind on their mortgage and both their house and his fathers practice belong to the bank. There's nothing left for Jacob, no home to go to anymore. In a daze, he walk
Mary ~Ravager of Tomes~
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2-star, year-2017
Actual Rating: 1.5 Stars

I went into this book with basically no expectations.

Outside of the preview I saw for the movie starring Robert Pattinson & Reese Witherspoon years ago, I didn't even know what this book was about. Turns out this is a story is set in the 1920's & told from the dual perspectives of Jacob Jankowski when he is 23 & 90 (or maybe 93).

On one hand, the story follows young Jacob right after his parents are both taken from him in a freak car accident. Laden with grief, he abandon
Aug 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jacob Jankowski is now in his 90s under care in a home. His mind travels back to the time he copes with tragedy when he loses his parents in an accident. It forces him to drop out of college while studying to be a Vet, and jump on a train. As it turns out he has landed in a circus train. What follows are his experiences in the circus. There is Arthur who is merciless and self centered. His wife Marlena whom Jacob follows in love with. Then there are the animals, especially the elephant Rosie.

Jason Koivu
Feb 20, 2012 added it
Shelves: fiction
Oprah's minions shall no longer rule my reading!

I probably would have disliked this less if I'd read the paperback instead of listening to the audiobook, where the narrator packed too much melodrama into the simplest of actions and mildest of emotions.

I don't think I've ever taken this long to get through an audiobook. Usually, I can just let it run and bust on through by doing boring jobs like yardwork or servicing my lady*. I just plug an audiobook into my ears and knock out those chores. . B
Paul Weiss

Jacob Jankowski, a promising veterinary student, is advised that his parents have been killed in an automobile accident. In the course of settling their estate, he is shocked to learn that the only reason he was able to afford the costs of university education is that his parent had mortgaged everything they own. The devastating shock of learning of their death and his discovery that he is a completely impoverished, penniless pauper render him virtually i
May 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Izetta Autumn
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Such a whimsical and fascinating novel. Some of the violence involving circus animals was a little upsetting but overall, I enjoyed reading about Jacob's story. I really liked him. :) ...more
Meredith Holley
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
Sep 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Water for Elephants was one of those books that I had put off reading For no particular reason. The fact that I eventually read it is thanks to Daily deal on audible and the I was drawn to the voice of the narrators.

This is a love story with an interesting and well researched insight into the train circus in the 1930s. The best part of this story for me was Jacob's story aged 90 or 93. I love how the author portrays very convincingly the life of the elderly Jacob living in a home and how after m
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Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels: AT THE WATER'S EDGE, APE HOUSE, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, RIDING LESSONS, and FLYING CHANGES. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages, and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christ ...more

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