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Water For Elephants Hardcover – May 18 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; 1 edition (May 18 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0002007770
  • ISBN-13: 978-0002007771
  • Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 2.9 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 612 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #414,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

With its spotlight on elephants, Gruen's romantic page-turner hinges on the human-animal bonds that drove her debut and its sequel (Riding Lessons and Flying Changes)—but without the mass appeal that horses hold. The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures[...] He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers—a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. Despite her often clichéd prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book. (May 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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. Almost by accident, Jacob joins the circus. There he falls in love with the beautiful performer Marlena, who is married to the circus' psychotic animal trainer. He also meets the other love of his life, Rosie the elephant. 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. The ending of both stories is a little too cheerful to be believed, but just like a circus, the magic of the story and the writing convince you to suspend your disbelief. The book is partially based on real circus stories and illustrated with historical circus photographs. Marta Segal
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Amy on Feb. 1 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a novel with big characters and a big love story. Of course, it all unfolds under the big top that is the story's setting.

Jacob Jankowski finds the loves of his life after joining the Benzini Brothers crumbling circus during the Great Depression: the charming and beautiful circus star Marlena, and the circus's other feature performer, Rosie, a delightful and crafty elephant.

The sideshow of supporting characters is rich and fascinating. There is Camel, the elderly man who gets more enjoyment from alcohol in Prohibition era America than the circus he can barely work for; Kinko, the Shakespeare loving, grumpy dwarf; ringmaster Uncle Al, who feeds his animals better than he pays his workers (after all, people won't show up for a circus without animals!), and the manipulative August, the animal trainer with a penchant for hooks and whips.

Author Gruen shows us the dark side of circus life after the big top closes down. Although the love story is front and centre, the sinister side of the circus life is revealed through various acts of greed, deception, and cruelty. The novel is impeccably researched for its portrayal of the circus and its performers, and also for the aching sadness and desperation of the Depression years.

Water for Elephants is an entertaining read; it is like a tightrope act that makes you hold your breath in admiration until the performer takes her final step to safety. [Amy MacDougall]
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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Art Vanderlay on Nov. 27 2007
Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a story of glamour and sophistication, this is not it. This is a true tale of circus life and folk--the nitty-gritty reality of hard work and heartbreak. The story opens with an elderly man, Jacob Jankowski, remembering his work in the circus, set off by the fact that someone is putting up circus tents just down the road from the nursing home he's in. This at once reminded me of the novels "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Bark of the Dogwood" both of which deal with someone remembering his past and then telling us about it. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is a remarkable book in that you can literally smell, see, and hear the animals. The opening chapter is so intense and brilliant that it will pull you in and you'll be stuck, as I was, reading for hours. WARNING: If you don't have a lot of time, don't start this book as you will have to finish it. Unlike so many other novels, this one pulls you in and never lets you go. If you liked the novels "Remains of the Day" and "Bark of the Dogwood" then you'll warm to this tale.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER on June 8 2006
Format: Audio CD
We can read in an author's note that Sara Gruen has studied elephant behavior. She has more than studied it she has affectingly captured it in Rosie, a large gray elephant and the one hope of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a down at the heels circus trying to make a go of it during the Depression.

Now, Rosie wasn't too much of a hope because she was lovable but could not follow any command . Rosie's only unique characteristic was a seemingly unquenchable thirst for lemonade. Her inability to perform was no excuse for the intolerable cruelty visited upon her by August, the callous menagerie director who thought nothing of tossing a lit cigarette into Rosie's open mouth. He didn't limit his abuse to helpless animals but also mistreated his lovely wife, Marlena.

Spellbindingly read by David LeDoux and John Rutledge Jones, Water For Elephants is at its heart the story of three - Jacob, who has lost his parents in a tragic accident, and finds a home with the circus, Marlena and, of course, Rosie. It's a poignant look at their lives set against an oppressive, sometimes degrading circus world, and a look back at our country during the grueling Depression years. Most importantly, it's a reminder of the resiliency of human beings and how love can heal.

- Gail Cooke
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By VM on Jan. 6 2008
Format: Paperback
Just finished reading Water for Elephants last night. I was hooked from the very first page. The way Sara Gruen tells a story makes you feel as if you are in the stock cars or under the big tent with the main characters the entire way through the book. I've come away with an appreciation of what circus life was all about in the depression era, and I know this is one book that will stick around in my head for a long time. As an animal lover, there were a couple of times where I had to put the book down and come back to it later. However disturbing some of the scenes where, they were an integral part of the character and plot development and Sara was able to capture them without dwelling unnecessarily on the cruelty.
Both my husband and I loved this book. So many times an author takes such care in writing the story but seeemingly whips up an ending to reach the publishers deadline. Not so in this case, we were both very pleasantly surprised by the ending, both of us closing the book with a grin on our faces. I will be recommending this book very highly to friends and family.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By dragonfly on Jan. 16 2010
Format: Paperback
I know I am in the minority here, but this book was just okay for me. It was predictable, flavorless and cliched. Among many character weaknesses, no-one really seems to develop over the story, and it's as if they are all "token" characters: the crazy boss, the poor and mistreated wife, the over-worked yet underpaid hero ect - I kept expecting something, anything to happen! Sadly, it didn't. I bring into question the state of literature when a book like this wins over so many people, and takes up so much precious shelf space.
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