Water for Elephants (Review)

Book cover for "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen.Title: Water for Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen

Narrators: David LeDoux & John Randolph Jones

Publication Year: 2006

Pages: 350 (audio length: 11 hours 27 minutes)

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I wasn’t too sure at first about this book, since I don’t really have any interest in circus stories, but I gave it a try because I’d heard that so many people loved it. I’m really glad that I did.

Water for Elephants is an absolutely fantastic story. Gruen sets up the suspense right from the first few chapters – you want to know what happened, and you want to find out how Jacob got from the younger version of him, watching someone kill a man in an animal stampede, to the older version of him, in a community living facility seventy years later.

There’s so much going on in this story that it’s a bit difficult to tell you what made it work. There’s the “show” aspect of things, tying in the animals and the circus acts; there’s Jacob’s family story, both in the past and in the present; and then there’s the love triangle that ties the rest of the story together. Whatever it is about the plot that interests you, you won’t be disappointed. Each and every aspect of the plot is well designed and executed perfectly.

I particularly loved the wealth and depth of characters in this book. Everyone had their own flaws and good characteristics – no one was perfect, not even the protagonist, and no one was purely evil, even the “bad” guys.

If you were on the fence about Water for Elephants, or unsure about it like I was – go for it. Seriously, you will be impressed, even if the premise doesn’t sound like a book you would normally enjoy.


6 thoughts on “Water for Elephants (Review)”

  1. I really liked this one too! You have the perfect description with “the wealth and depth of characters” – Gruen did a great job with all of them.

  2. I had the same initial thought, as I’m meh about circus stories, too. But I loved the narrator’s voice, and the story itself.

    However, I have no plans to see the movie!

    1. Fair enough! I often don’t see movies that are made from books – but I might see this one just because it sounds like it could be beautiful.

  3. one of my favorite books!!! was very disappointed with her 3rd book ape house….have her first one..riding lessons…should dig it out

  4. I was so hesitant to read this one initially because it was about circus, which is something I never read about. But I’m glad as well for having given it a try because it turned out to be a fabulous read!

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