Book Reviews of Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants
Author: Sara Gruen
Audio Books swap for two (2) credits.
ISBN-13: 9781598870626
ISBN-10: 1598870629
Publication Date: 6/1/2006
Pages: 660
Edition: Unabridged
Rating:
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 93

4.4 stars, based on 93 ratings
Publisher: HighBridge Audio
Book Type: Audio CD
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

685 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Water for Elephants on + 119 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 89
Believe the hype you have heard about this book. Gruen's characters leap off the page and into your mind they are so well concieved. Almost every element you could want in a book is here - humor, a bit of a mystery, drama, angst, terror, compassion. It is about relationships; human to human; human and animal. It's about falling in love in an instant. It's about history. It's about life with a traveling circus and all the various personalities that make up a community.

The only word of caution I have is that there are elements of animal cruelty portrayed if that makes you squeemish.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 404 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 49
I almost didn't read this book because of the wait list (over 900 people!) and because my TBR pile is now a TBR mountain. I'm glad I did read it. Knocked it out in two nights. Memorable read.

Life was hard in the 1930's, there was no work, the stock market crashed. The romance and excitement of the traveling circus was the television of that time. Of course, the circus life itself was hard, gritty, and terrible. And always, underneath it all, one finds compassion.

This is a love story, between a man and a woman, between a man and himself.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 138 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 34
OK, First I must tell you that I don't really like circuses - at least the old fashioned kind. That's primarily because I had always heard that they mistreated their animals. This book did nothing but reinforce that opinion.

Even given that though, this is a VERY good book. Well researched with fascinating insight into the life of a 3rd rate travelling circus in during the Depression. The story and the action never slows down until the dramatic and surprising conclusion. And even though many of the characters were, frankly, nasty, the goodness and morality of the main character and others gives you hope.

Highly recommended. 4.5* (It would have been 5* if I had been a circus fan.)
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 134 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 27
Brilliant is an understatement - wonderfully plotted, well paced, characters with depth (both human and non). You can taste the popcorn and smell the hay. You worry throughout the book that things will turn out badly, but you know they simply can't. There should be more than 5 stars available.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 17 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 26
Great book! I really wasn't all into it at first because I was not interested in Depression-era circus life. But I am telling you, as little as this interests you, this book is great and it will MAKE you interested in circus life. It's told by the main character when he is near the end of his days in a nursing home which makes it interesting since he is telling a story of his past.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 29 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 21
I picked this up after it was recommended to me. From the prologue to the very end, it had me captivated. I also liked it because it gave me a glimpse into the 1930's, a decade I don't know too much about.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 209 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 20
I really enjoyed this book. The character development is superb! The story line is very different. However, if you have difficulty imagining animals being mistreated, you may want to think twice. Some violence involving animals. It pushed me to the limit in this way, but the book was definitely worth it.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 20
A really great read! Sucks you right in and you won't put it down. This is not YA, and there are refs to sex in it (nothing terribly explicit), but it is a reasonable read for a mature teenager. My 15-year old niece adored this book--she carried it everywhere with her (up the stairs, in the car) until she finished it, and said it was one of the best books she ever read.

It is fun and fascinating and a terrifically absorbing and satisfying book.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 18 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 15
This book provided something very different from anything else I've ever read, and I enjoyed it tremendously. I felt drawn into the time period and a lifestyle that I've never imagined. Very well written. For me the love story aspect took a back seat to the other relationships Jacob developed during his early days with the Circus, both with humans and animals.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 526 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 13
This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 12
Wonderful, engaging story written in seamless flashback. A surprise ending that couldn't be better deserved! I loved the insider's view of the complex workings within a 1930's train circus and its cast of very colorful characters...
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 159 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 9
I didn't think I'd like this book since I usually don't enjoy the popular best sellers. I was wrong. This is such a wonderful book that I put my husband on "hold" Valentine's night so I could finish the last five pages. I'm now on my husband's $%#@ list, but this book is now on my Top Five List! Don't pass it up!!!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 36 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 7
Oh...My...STARS!!! My eyes are killing me...Wanna know why??? Cause I could NOT stop reading this book...This is a GREAT book...One that transports you through time...One that gives that 10 year old kid inside you the urge to run away from home and go to clown college...The book that makes my yearn to smell manure in the air and have cotton candy stuck to your fingers...I KNEW I should have joined the circus...This is an amazing story and I cannot say enough about it...Pure love...AND, I haven't seen the movie yet...But Rob Pattinson is pretty yummy so I'll have to do that when it comes out on DVD...
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 6
Fantastic audio performance. The book is narrated by two differnt people - 'old' Jacob and 'young' Jacob - and they both do a wonderful job. The story comes alive with their performance. The book itself is wonderful, too. It's a touching love story set against the backdrop of a depression-era circus. The characters are wonderfully real - they stayed in my mind long after the book was finished. 5 stars - two thumbs up - a must listen!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 424 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
Instantly one of my favorite books. It was so wonderful I can hardly even put it into words. I hate circuses because of how the animals are treated. I haven't been since I was a very small child and saw how sad they all looked. I didn't think I would enjoy this book. But the emotion in this book is so overwhelming. Rosie is beautiful. The humans seem so real. You feel for them..whether it's love, pity, hate, sadness.

It was so well narrated, too. The two actors did such a great job bringing the characters to life. Huge thumbs up!!!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 24 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
This was the first book our book club chose to read. I don't know how we will ever top this one. It is excellent! Such a great read! Will be one of my favorite books of all time!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 6
Excellent book. It kept my interest from cover to cover. However, I found the discriptions of animal abuse very disturbing... especially the abuse of Rosie the elephant. Even though this book was a work of fiction, I know that much of it was based on fact. The characters were all very well developed and did bring some humor to the dismal lives of so many on the circus train.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 6
Almost perfect. Past and present in alternating chapters that come together at the end. Writing truly captures life in a circus in the 40's, life in a nursing home in the present. I had the slightest niggle of doubt at the very end, but it was still believable and in keeping with the rest of the story
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 14 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
The author does a good job moving from chapters between the life of a now 90 some year old man, Jacob Jankowski, and his life as a young man working for the Circus. The chapters of Jacob as an old man are humorous as he gets his dander up with other nursing home residents. The chapters of his experiences of love and life in the circus, bring on humor and pain side by side. Just when your heart is breaking, regarding the treatment of circus staff and animals and you don't think you can bear to read on, the book quickly moves to something amusing and endearing. I loved the fact that the author did allot of research into the circus life during that period. It was a culture and a lifestyle I had no idea existed, and I found it compelling.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 34 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
The author does a spectacular job writing this book, I wish I could give this book more stars! Although it is a fictional story there are true pieces of history added in some way.....kind of like Titanic, kind of..that's the best way to describe this particular piece.

The characters are well written and described, you can almost envision them all in this era. Sara Gruen pulls you into the story within the first few pages and keeps your attention with each paragraph. Once you get sucked in you don't.....or can't put this book down. You begin to see how Jacob became the way he was in his golden years as he reflects back to his days working with the circus. You feel sorry for him and you also cheer him on as the story progresses. You are on an emotional roller coaster ride with this piece. There is even a little bit of romance, but don't worry it's not cheesy or smut like instead it is sweet and charming. Sara ends the book on the most perfect level, something that is not an easy task. I hope to read more works of hers in the future should all of her writing be this well written.

I am tempted to watch the movie, I can only hope the film isn't just thrown together because of the hype of the book. But as with most books that become movies, there is only a handful that have done an outstanding job at reflecting the book.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 5 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
This book has been on my "to read" list for quite awhile, and I am so thankful that it finally reached the top! However, when I first began, I'll be honest that the topic left me less than thrilled. A traveling circus during the Depression era? Not what I considered to be my "thing". It didn't take long for me to be hooked though. After three pages, I had already laughed aloud and gasped in shock. This is a wonderful book filled with compassion, deception, love, murder, mystery, and suspense. The best 331 pages I've read in a long while!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 17 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
This book has drawn a lot of comparisons to John Irving, and that is one of the reasons I bought it. I thought the comparison was justified, but this book left me a little unsatisfied compared to John Irving's books. While the character and story were interesting, I felt that the book lacked a bit of depth. Definitely worth reading, but I wish the author had gone a bit deeper when forming the characters and their motives/actions.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
I absolutely loved this book. Unfortunately I stayed up half the night reading it and was very tired at work the next day! I am 48 years old and my children are off to college. This book makes you think about getting older without being depressing. It is flashbacks/memories of the life of an old man in a nursing home who was a veternarian with a circus during the depression. Both mena and women would enjoy reading this book, I think.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
Wow! This is a very good novel. The author went to great lengths to aquire real stories and facts about circus life. It shows in her writing. I love how she portrays the old man and the switching between him and his younger life is smooth. This was a page turner. Last night, with about 1/2 the book left and 20 minutes to read, I sat down with it. An hour and a half later, I had finished the book. And it left me smiling. Now, today, I can't get the characters out of my head. I wish there was more!
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 5
I enjoyed the book a lot! My only complaint was a few 'crude' moments in the book that seemed unnecessary. Otherwise, was very interesting, and a completely original read!

This is the first book I've ever read that had something to do with a circus, and that was intriguing enough!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 217 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
This book makes you feel like you are right there with the characters. Sara Gruen does a flawless job of switching from modern day to 1931. She makes you fall in love with the characters and feel thier pain, anguish, happiness and joy. A must read for any PBS'er.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 113 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
I was not into this book as much as I anticipated from all the reviews. I did not think enjoy the ending. It did give me an idea of the circus life at that period and some unforgettable glimpses of the hard lives of the workers, but not a favorite of mine.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 526 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
EXCELLENT narration!! WOW! This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first paragraph, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 526 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 99 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Truly captivating - one of the best books I've read all year. Fast paced with a lot of heart, I loved the main character's journey. Being an animal lover, the book was occasionally almost too much for me to bear, but I'm very glad I stuck with it. Highly reccomended. 4*.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 4
Very engaging book that I read within 24 hours. A different story about the circus "world" in the 1930'sand 1940's. The circus was one of the few traveling entertainment venues of that time and most towns looked forward to the visit, however there were other towns that would run them out if they felt they were cheated on the previous visit. Whole families would belong to the circus as well as transients hired to do the grunt work. The main character falls somewhere between the "family" member and the "transient" help and the reader learns of the circus world along with the main character. The circus often operated outside of the law and transients that did the grunt work had little value to the owner/s. The story is also a love story however that doesn't really start to happen until the end of the book. Highly recommend.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 22 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
REally enjoyed this book! It went seamlessly from the past to the present and back and actually added top the story. Gruen depicted the elder Jacob so well, the reader really feels for him, and the younger pulls you through his circus adventures as if you were there. I love how history was woven through as well.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 12 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Going in, I had a feeling this book would contain some stuff that would make me a little uncomfortable, and I was right. But isn't that what a good book does ... challenge our emotions, our views, our experiences? As it turns out, this is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Absorbing, thought-provoking and highly entertaining, it kept me involved to the very end and left me with a great feeling and a better understanding of what it's like to live life in a Depression-era circus and the indignities of growing old. I highly recommend reading this book. I'll likely read it again myself.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 29 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I was totally caught off guard by this book. I expected it to be a "heavy read" like some of the NYT bestsellers but it was enchanting. I read it cover to cover in an evening. It completely engrosses the reader in a culture that not many of us would know anything about but the themes of grief, love, desperation, jealousy etc we all can relate to . A great book. I think this would suit readers of many differenct tastes.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 77 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
This was a very entertaining book! A fascinating look into the lives of circus people, and the clear class lines among them. Told through the eyes and voice of a 93 year old man, which brings another agenda of life into the plot. Viewers on the back page say: compelling...vivid...rich...emotional...delightful...endlessly surprising...riveting...and they are right.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I enjoyed this book - it was recommended by a friend and I was not disappointed. I take the train to and from the city and so I do most of my reading on my commute. This is one of those books that was hard to put down - I hated when we pulled into my station because I was so involved in the story. Then I could not wait til I got back on the train to finish the story.

It is a moving story of a man who reflects on his time in the circus - it is visual, gritty and sensual and truly transports the reader into another time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 604 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
This is a wonderful book! Very engrossing characters. I really loved the main character of this "running away with the circus" tale. It goes back and forth from present day where he is an old man back to 1931 and how he wound up in the circus life. There is tragedy and triumph. An excellent read all the way through!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 34 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I LOVED this book. It was captivating. One of the best books I've read this year.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 16 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
Probably one of the best books I've read in 2008!

Gruen's writing style makes the depression era circus come to startling life. I was hooked from the first page and felt instantly sympathetic with the main character Jacob. I loved all the crazy and at times shocking details of life on the circus train. Well written, great chracters and great plot. Of course I can't write this review without mentioning the fascinating and realistic detail given to all of the animal "characters" as well especially Rosie the bull elephant. Don't want to give anything away but the ending was fantastic. I dount you will be dissapointed if you give this book a chance.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 73 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I really did love this book. It takes you to a different world, one where you're sucked into the character's lives and not let go until the very end. Gruen sure did her research, and it paid. Her book was filled with some true stories that she had actually read during her research. Bottom line is--this is a compelling and fascinating book.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I actually didn't enjoy this book....And am probably one of few. I just don't see the hype in this book. There was nothing that made me want to keep reading it. It was a struggle for me to get through.
I do believe my favorite part was the end.
That stated, I wouldn't reccomend this to anyone.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 35 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
If I'd had time to sit and read this book straight through, I would have - it was that good. I found myself laughing at the humorous accounts of 'old Jacob' and nearly crying over some of the other events. As far as the animal abuse goes, I didn't find it too shockingly descriptive (and this is coming from someone who cries when ASPCA commercials come on!). For me personally though, the one thing that made this just a good read and not a keeper was the several descriptions of sexual encounters. I could have done without those parts, and that's why I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5. Overall though, I loved this book and will probably read it again sometime.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
I absolutely loved this book. Unfortunately I stayed up most of the night reading it! Different from any other novel I have read. I think both men and women would equally enjoy.

The story is predominately about a young man who loses both his parents in an accident, quits college, hops a train that turns out to be a circus train. It is set in the depression, so he stays with the circus in order to feed himself. The story is narrated by the man at 90 (or 93) years old from his assisted living home and moves back and forth between these 2 stages of his life.

Really makes you think about your life up onto this point and what it will be like when you are old and dependant on others. However, it is not terribly depressing.

I didn't order this book for a long time becuase I wasn't too interested in a circus story, but this book is much, much more than that. Give it a try.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 107 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book!!!!! I, too, wasn't quite sure what to expect... it's not the normal type of book I usually read, but once I started reading it, I got so caught up that I didn't want to put it down. When I finished it, I immediately went to a friend at work to tell her that she HAD to read it and she said "OMG! I read it about 4 months ago. Isn't it amazing?!"

I highly recommend this book and it's definitely on my top favorite list of all time favorite books! :)
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 102 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
The backdrop of this book, the circus, made it a different kind of book for me. Not a book I fell in love with, but ok.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Engrossing historical fiction with lots of great detail about depression-era circumstances. Loved the ending.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 5 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I borrowed this book from a great friend with the recommendation that it was one of the best novels she had ever read - and I agree that it is super-awesome. The world of the book is fantastically realized and the characters feel like real people. It runs the gamut of emotion and stays with you after you've finished.
you should read it.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 22 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
A fantastic read. I devoured this book in 2 days. Very sad story and have thought about it for days.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 28 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
An arresting new novel....with a showman's expert timimg, Gruen saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale. NY Times Book Review
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 59 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I was hesitant to read this book at first. My usual genres are women's fiction, with a very heavy emphasis on chick lit. When a friend recommended this book to me, my first thought was "You want me to read about circuses? In the Depression era? Ummmm, no, I don't think so." I honestly thought this book was SO not my thing.

But she persisted, insisting that I MUST read this book. So I decided to give it a try, if only to get her off my back. :) I am SO glad I did. It was awesome! I was hooked from the first few pages. If I had to put the book down, I was thinking about when I could get back to read it again. It grabbed me and wouldn't let go (as trite as that sounds, it was true).

It was a quick read, and the writing was lively and tight. It never bogged down, the plot was exciting and kept the book moving forward at a rapid pace.

I highly recommend this book. Even if you think you WON'T like it, give it a try anyway. It's that good!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 16 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
couldn't put it down. very well written.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 6 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
If you have not read thisyet, then you need to. It is a very engaging story that leaps off the pages, and keeps you interested until you finish. The treatment of the animals and the low end workers was horrible!! The whole account was researched expertly by the author, and she adds true life occurences of which she weaves into her novel. Don't miss this one, folks!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 74 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Wonderful story. I love the glimpse into a bygone era of the traveling circus. And I love Rosie! This is the first book I've read by this author but it won't be the last.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 39 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
A wonderful story of the trials and tribulations of a traveling circus during the Great Depression. The author's richly developed characters, both human and otherwise, will keep you turning the pages. You'll never look at a circus the same way again.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 200 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Given the topic, I think I would normally have overlooked this title, but I really enjoyed it. The fascinating historical world of the circus is mesmerizing and Gruen has done a nice job at helping us feel immersed in the culture -- we learn slang, the pecking order, the real grittiness of the lifestyle, etc. While there are plenty of dark moments here, and parts are not for those with soft stomachs, it was a very quick and enjoyable read, as it was easy to become engrossed in the story, with an ending better than I'd hoped for. Highly recommended.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 526 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 7 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
This was well-written, but very hard for me to read. If you're a sensitive person and have trouble reading about cruelty to animals, then don't read this book. It will haunt you.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 410 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
I had high expectations for this book--and it definitely delivered! Very satisfying, engaging novel about a third-rate Depression-era circus.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 97 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Beautifully written, touching story about an unusual and interesting subject. I loved this book and so did my husband. I've always loved elephants and was delighted to learn more about these intelligent, fascinating creatures. This book gets into the heart of both people and animals.

There is humor, pathos, love, mystery, action, and more, much more. The book gives you great insight into the workings of circuses, which until now, have been a mystery to many of us.

It is quite a while since I've read it, but I find thoughts about the story and the characters coming to mind every now and then. Do yourself a big favor, and read it. You'll be very happy you did.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 55 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 3
Really good. gives a nice portrayal of circus life in America. Also features an elephant that only understands Polish. And since I'm Polish it scored some extra points.
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Helpful Score: 3
Love It Love It Love IT!

This book was amzing from page 1 to the last page. I couldn't put this book down. The author did a great job pulling the reader into this book ank keeping your attention through out the entire thing. Sara Gruen does a wonderful job painting a picture of circuse life; the glamouors part and the rought parts of circus life. There are so many different charcters in this book that bring so much color to the story. My favorites were Kinko (aka Walter) and Rosie. Marlena was a ittle too helpless in my opionion, but I guess for the time period that was normal. I would reccomend this book too anyone. Get a copy of this book and add it to your to be read pile!!! This is worth the credit!

Enjoy!
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Helpful Score: 2
This was the most interesting story that involves love from afar, fending for oneself and compassion for animals. The main character led you through the story in a way that made you feel all the emotions. I have never been interested in life with a circus but thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wish I had read it sooner!
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Helpful Score: 2
Oh, my gosh! There are few stories published that will pull at your heartstrings as this one does. It has the heroine and the villain you love to hate. This fabulous book should be on everyone's to read list!
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Helpful Score: 2
This has been in my TBR list for awhile, and my daughter kept telling me to read it, that I would love it. She was right! The story telling pulled me in right away, and I was fascinated with the descriptions of the circus life. The main characters are flawed and loveable, and the villans are truly unsavory. I don't know if it were planned or not, but sometimes when the chapters switched from past to present I was confused for a bit, but then so was Jonas! Nice effect whether it was intended or not. I highly recommend this book!
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Helpful Score: 2
Excellent book. Only you probably will never want to go to a circus again.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Probably one of the best books I've read in a long time. It takes about two chapters, but after that you will be swept away by the imagery, the degradations, the triumphs and sorrows of this second rate circus and the people that make it happen. then there's the elephant...a must read.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 2 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Absolutely loved this book. Very well written, grabs you in the very beginning and transports you back to the time of circus trains and prohibition. I thought the ending couldn't have been better.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 224 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Believe all the hype you've heard about this book. I could not put it down. There are parts of animal cruelty, but I don't think it was taken to the extreme or too detailed, so that didn't bother me as much as I thought it might.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 13 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
beatifully written book. i loved the main characters and the story was different than i expected. as with all good books, i just wish it was longer!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This book is wonderful and engaging. I loved it from the beginning and found it hard to put down. Gruen does a wonderful job intertwining the "old" Jacob and the "young" Jacob. The characters come alive, and you are sure that you can hear and smell the scenes of a depression era circus. A must read! I'll be picking up more books by Gruen in the future!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Could not put this down! Great historical fiction about the circus during the depression. Wonderful, exotic, unusual characters. The elephant abuse was quite difficult to read, but she triumphs in the end.
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Helpful Score: 2
I liked this book a lot but thought it go weaker as it went along. It started off with such a bang and was completely engrossing. I loved the richness of detail too...got me very interested in circus history. But as it went on it got a bit more pat, and I thought the ending was too easy.

Warning: There is some horrible animal abuse in this book.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 53 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Enthralling, captivating. This is one of the best books I've read recently and is highly recommended!
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Helpful Score: 2
A story that will capture your attention as you learn about circus life along with the main character, Jacob. While reading, look for similarities in the book to the biblical Jacob in the Book of Genesis. Absolutely enjoyed this story and Gruen's marvelous writing.
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Helpful Score: 2
Wonderful book, it draws you right in, from the first paragraph. A facinating story about circus life, and love, from back then. Good read!
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Helpful Score: 2
I honestly love this book. I cannot tell you the last time I read anything even close to the way this book made me feel. It is on a short list of my all time favorites, and I think about it all the time.
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Helpful Score: 2
What a great book! I got mine at a store before I became a PBS member because it looked interesting and different. I wasn't disappointed. Like others have said, it's a real page turner and the ending is very satisfying.

Susan
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 15 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I got this book and put it aside for some reason, thinking I wouldn't like a book about the circus. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down. You are drawn in immediately to the main character. I loved the way the story went back in time, and back to the present time when the main character is very old. It was also fascinating the way the animals are described and the life of working in a circus. I loved this book, one of my all time favorites. I can't wait until her next book comes out, but not sure if this book can be topped.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 3 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Loved it! An authentic "feel" for the circus and it's personnel. Happy ending didn't hurt.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 20 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
One of the best books I've read. The subject matter is different and refreshing. She did a great job of capturing the period & lifestyle of the Circus. This book will keep you captivated from beginning to end.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 31 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I absolutely loved this book! It is probably one of my new all-time favorites. The main character joins a traveling circus during the 1930's. The story is filled with humor, grit, and romance. I highly enjoyed learning the ins and outs of what it was really like to experience circus life during that era, learning bits about American history along the way. I could not put this book down. I stayed up half the night reading it. It is one of those books that you can get lost in.
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Helpful Score: 2
I really enjoyed this book. The story was great and I liked how the author went from the past to the present. I thought it enhanced the story.
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Helpful Score: 2
Stunningly wonderful book. Just a really enjoyable and captivating read.
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Helpful Score: 2
I loved this book. Fantastically written, will keep you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happnes next.
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Helpful Score: 2
Jacob Jankowski loses everything dear to him; he goes a little nuts and joins the circus. Gruen writes an engaging story that kept me turning the pages. She knows how to build suspense; she uses foreshadowing in the first few pages that makes the reader want to get to that point in the story. Although this may sound commercial, it's a complement: this novel was made to be turned into a movie, and I believe it is going to be one. Join the circus and fall in love!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 81 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I liked this book alot. Its about a way of life that is no longer around and you can only read about them now days. I could not put it down and it was a quick read.
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Helpful Score: 2
What a page turner--I read this in about three days. Started off slow, but really picks in the middle. Completely transported this "rube" (circus lingo for civilian) into the world under the big top in the 1930s.
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Helpful Score: 2
A captivating tale of a college drop-out turned circus veterinarian, as told by the vet himself, now 90 years old bored to tears in a nursing home. He recounts his travels aboard the circus train, friends and enemies he makes, and his first real experience with love. He forms an unlikely bond with an elephant named Rosie along the way. I read this book before all the hype and am not at all surprised by the attention it is getting. Gruen is a great story-teller! I think all PBS'ers should give this one a try. My husband and sister loved this one as well. 5/5
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 20 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This book is phenomenal - absolutely amazing. I must admit it took me some time to decide to pick up this book and read it. I am so glad I did. It is the best book I have read all year and possibily longer than that.

Water for Elephants is well written. The author is wonderful with descriptions and dialogue. You feel like you are a part of the main character's life - and what a story he has to tell. The story will be with me for days to come. I wish it didn't have to end. I eagerly await the authors next book.
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Helpful Score: 2
What a different type of story. Held my interest all the way through. I really enjoyed the characters and the story line. Does a good job switching from the present situation in a nursing home to the past working in a circus.
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Helpful Score: 2
This book will grab you and not let you go. Probably the best books I've read in the last six months.
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Helpful Score: 2
this is a good book that kept my interest from start to finish
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 234 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
"Water for Elephants" was well written. It appears the author, Sara Gruen, researched her subject well. It is told through the eyes and memory of a 90 something gentleman. As other reviewers before me have mentioned, it is hard to read the stories of cruelty to animals and people alike. Although this is not my normal book genre, I would rate it as one of the best books I have ever read. Take a chance, and read this different story of a circus, and all that comes with it during the Great Depression.
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Helpful Score: 2
For a topic (depression era circus) that I never thought would interest me, I LOVED this book. I couldn't put it down. The main character drew my attention right in. I had to know what happened to him that I couldn't stop reading. I love to read books that don't flow straight through in chronological order. This book flips between present day and the main character's past. This is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read.
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Helpful Score: 2
my book club read this and everyone enjoyed it...we talked a lot about loyalty as a theme...we also discussed old age and how we anticipate our lives will change as we grow older...also how we treat older people in our lives now...I would recommend this book.
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Helpful Score: 2
Nothing about the topics interested me: not circuses,not elephants, nothing. The book, nonetheless, was captivating. Definitely a book that stands out from the masses and that I will remember long after a lot of other books have run together.
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Helpful Score: 2
The world that these characters live in is so full of crazy and interesting stuff! The mobile circus provides an intricate and fascinating background for a cast of characters that will tug at your heart.
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Helpful Score: 2
I thought the circus story was fascinating! I knew that it was a hard-scrabble, gritty world, but not to the extreme portrayed here, but then, Benzini Bros must have been a Grade C circus. The individual characters were developed and compelling. The relationships between the animal characters and their "people" were also well developed and compelling. The romantic angle was the only plot element I found predictable and, in a way, out of place in the story. ***SPOILER***Both "stories", past and present, had endings that were just too tidy, especially the transition that Jacob the Elder made; it just seemed too good to be true.
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Helpful Score: 2
I picked up this book just to see what it was about and didn't put it down until it was finished. I liked it a lot. Though it is fiction, it includes a wealth of anecdotes about the time (depression) and the trade (Big Top), that actually happened. I enjoyed the author's character development and the introduction to something I knew nothing about. I fell in love with the protagonist on the first page. It would be a great book-club book and has book-club questions in the back of the book.
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Helpful Score: 2
This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I didn't know what to expect, but loved this book. I liked the author's use of flashback to tell the story. Very good read!
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Helpful Score: 2
I could not put this book down. I loved the references to Norwich, Ithaca and surrounding areas near my home town and the behind the scenes look at circus life was intriguing. The whole book reminded me of the stories my husband's grandfather would tell of jumping on trains during the Depression, just to see where they would take him...it was like the story of HIS life.
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Helpful Score: 2
AMAZING BOOK ----- Was told awhile ago it was a good book but I never did until now. I am sorry I waited so long to get it.
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Helpful Score: 2
I didn't know what to expect from this book, other than 2 of my friends had enjoyed it! This was an exciting tale about life on a circus train in the 1930s. While it portrayed the life of the circus, the heart of it lay in the story of the workers and performers; their interactions and relationships. The story is "told" by a man in his 90's, who is now a resident in a nursing home. A circus has come to town and is setting up the tent near his resident home. It spurs his memories of his life as a circus veteranarian. The story SEAMLESSLY goes b/t his current life and his memories. It didn't have the "choppiness" that books sometimes have when the go from past to present.

The story grabbed me on the first page and didn't let go! It is filled with humor, emotion and surprises! I loved it! It is one of the most entertaining and surprising books I have read in awhile! I hope you try it and enjoy it as well!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 32 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Jacob is in the last weeks of veterinary school at Cornell when he is hit with a massive shock: the death of both of his beloved parents, and more importantly the loss of everything he owns to the bank. This is the throws of the Depression. He does what every man would do in his situation, hops a train to anywhere only to find out it is the circus train of The Benzini Bros. Greatest Show on Earth! As the show's veterinarian he forms a close relationship with crazy August (the equestrian trainer), his wife Marlena (a performer), and Rosie (the elephant). As the days go on, life on the circus gets crazier and crazier, until one day all hell breaks loose. What will Jacob do next?

This book is narrated by two voices â that of the 90 something year old Jacob (retelling the events as he remembers them) and that of the 20 something year old Jacob (experiencing the events). The audiobook did an amazing job of casting two narrators and it made it one of the best books I have listened too. You were easily able to tell at what time you were by who was narrating and it made it feel so real.

Gruen does an amazing job of researching the life of circus workers during the Depression. At no time did I feel that the details were out of place. You could feel the desperation of the roustabouts when they were continually not paid, resorted to drinking bootleg liquor, ran out of food. Reading this book was like stepping back in time.

I loved this book! It is easily very near the top of my favorite books list. According to the authors website Fox 2000 has purchased the rights to this book to make a movie and hear rumor that Reese Witherspoon might be cast as Marlena. I think it would make a fantastic movie.

5 out of 5 stars!
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 2
I was "in" by page SEVEN! Loved the angle of old man/young man telling the story. It sure makes me look at seniors in a whole new light. Something along lines of THE NOTEBOOK--very poignant reminder of how life flies by!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 592 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Told from the perspective of a 93-year old man in an "assisted-living" home, this was a very poignant story of his life with a circus during the depression of the 1930's. The protagonist was just about to graduate from Cornell as a veterinarian, when his parents were killed in an accident. He leaves the school without taking his final exams and ends up in a circus where his veterinary skills are found to be most useful. The novel really brings the old-time circus to life -- the performers, the roustabouts, the animals, the cooch tent, along with the sadistic owner and the animal trainer who is a certified paranoid schizophrenic with flights into madness and brutality. This was very well researched and very realistically presented circus life. I found this novel to be very readable and enjoyable and would highly recommend it.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 2
I tried to get over the fact that the circus always
frightened me as a child because this book got so
many great reviews but I just could not.

I was bored with the circus jargon and never got a
chance for the characters to get developed in my mind.

I probably missed a good one...maybe another day.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 36 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Lazy writing - this book is so bad I can only ask how our literary tastes have become so degraded that dreck like this is celebrated. If you would like to read some great writing about a circus, read "The Deptford Trilogy" by Robertson Davies. You could also read the one-star reviews of this book on Amazon. Now there was some good writing!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 526 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 19 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
Fantastic!! I really enjoyed this book! You truly feel for all of the characters, human and non-human alike! I was very angry at the injustices done to several of the characters, but that's part of why this book is so great! Loved it! Would recommend it to everyone!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 4 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
One of the best books I have ever read!

Water For Elephants brought out my emotions including humor, sadness and excitement. Rosie the elephant really captured my heart.

The story is about a traveling circus and takes place during the Great Depression. He tells his story in the present day from his nursing home.

Can't say much more about it w/out giving the story away. What I can say is it's a MUST read!
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 2
This is fiction at it's best. It transports you into a very different but real place and time with engaging characters and a well crafted story. This author really put some work into this! Excellent.
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Helpful Score: 2
This is a wonderfully written book. I loved the characters and was quickly drawn into their story.
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Helpful Score: 2
Water for elephants is a great story about an elderly man who is re-living his past. His story is good, and I almost hated to see him "return" to his life in the nursing home when his musings were finished. My heart went out to him, and the author really made him come to life. It was a good reminder that the elderly get very lonely and long for the days when they could get up and run...

Word of caution: This book contained a few scenes of sexuality that were more graphic than I am comfortable with.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 2
This is right at the top of my list of favorite books - and I read a lot! It's a touching story about a young man on the brink of starting his life after college who is dealt a tragic blow. How he chooses to deal with it is unusual but seems to be the perfect choice for him. I didn't know a lot about circus life before reading this book so if you're one of those people who loves learning bits of history presented in interesting ways, this book will do it! A wonderful, heart wrenching story that left me feeling both wistful and thoughtful.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 12 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
I almost didn't read this book due to all the hype...Oprah, Book Club recommendations, etc. that tend to lean towards message heavy and depressing. With that said, I came across this book in a thrift store and thought I'd give it a chance. So very glad I did!! This is easily one of the best books I've ever read and will be a favorite for a long time. Believe everything you hear about this book - the characters DO jump off the page at you, you will become emotionally attached to the characters and animals and you will hate it when the story ends. Can't recommend this book enough!
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 2
I believe this is the most depressing book I have ever read - at least one of the top ten. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to keep these memories alive. I did not finish this book, I flipped to the back after 160 pages and quit reading.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 16 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 2
What a fun, fun read! I loved the very first paragraph of the book and couldn't put it down! What an amazing story based on early circus life. LOVED THIS BOOK!
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Helpful Score: 1
I really enjoyed this book! Not only was it a well-written, compelling story, but I learned so much about circus life and animals.
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Helpful Score: 1
I couldn't put it down! Loved it!!!
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Helpful Score: 1
Amazing and beautiful. The insight that Sara Gruen displays into aging and the state of our elder care in this country is striking. As a reader, you are absolutely invested in these characters from the beginning. A wonderful novel of a wonderful tale. I will be reading it again soon, and I am very much looking forward to it.
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Helpful Score: 1
I loved this book! The colorful circus characters and the touching protagonist make it a must read!
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Helpful Score: 1
I loved this book! And, I don't care for the circus itself! Well-written, great plot and I love the twist!
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Helpful Score: 1
I was surprised that I enjoyed this book given the subject matter, but by the end on the prologue you are sucked in. LOOOVED the ending, couldn't have been more fitting. All in all a very good and satifying read!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 65 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
It is difficult to get past the animal abuse in this book. I know that it is an accurate portrayal of the awful lives that circus animals have but it was hard to focus on the story between the human characters. It is a difficult book to put down once you get into the story. There could have had more of an ending after all the buildup but still worth reading.
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Helpful Score: 1
Hmmm...I honestly don't know how I feel about this book. While I was reading, I was thoroughly enjoying it. It was a light read and the story really grips you from the very first page. However, the more I think about it now, the more I realize that the almost all characters were sort of flat and I really didn't care what happened to them.
It is clear that a huge amount of research went into writing this book. Maybe it would've have been better if it was written as a non-fiction.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 1
Wonderfully written with unique characters, Water for Elephants opens as the lead character recalls in old age the transformative events of youth. Orphaned suddenly just as he was preparing to join his father's veterinary practice, our "hero" runs off and through a series of coincidences, joins the circus. A great look at the itinerant life of the Depression-era traveling show, the hierarchy of performer vs. roustabout, and the animals who may be more humane than their keepers.
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Helpful Score: 1
This is one of my favorite books, and it was a book that I initially thought I'd never want to read. I thought it was very well written, with interesting character. The book travels back and forth in time in this man's life, and the transitions between the time periods was seamless! Truly a must read.
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Helpful Score: 1
I thought the accuracy of the historic details seemed pretty real (from my limited knowledge of the Great Depression, train-hopping and train circuses). The story's interspersed from present day to flash backs, which usually makes me mad because it's an indirect way of building suspense. This worked, though, and I really liked the story. I've read reviews that said the ending was "typical," but I didn't think so.
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
If someone had told me this book was about a circus before I read it, I probably would not have even picked it up. I'm sure glad they didn't. This book was extremely well written with well-developed, real characters. I love the flash-back style (although it took me a while to get used to it).
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Helpful Score: 1
I truly enjoyed this book, I could not put it down. Not only is it a good story, the author has a really enjoyable writing sytle. It grabs you on the 1st page & never lets go.
You won't be sorry if you order this book!
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Helpful Score: 1
I love this story about life, love, and the circus. There is a great use of flashbacks of the main character as an old man in a nursing center to his experiences as a young vet traveling with a circus. That makes it sound boring... it is much more dramatic than that sounds! Loads of interesting characters and intersecting plot lines. A very pleasing ending as well. I highly recommend it!
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Helpful Score: 1
I liked this book so much that after posting my paperback copy back into the system, I ordered a hardcover from Amazon for my permanent library. Don't miss out on this book, it is a keeper!
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Helpful Score: 1
One of the best books I've read in a while. If you were ignorant of the inner workings of a circus (like I was) you'll learn a tremendous amount, maybe even more than enough to make you uncomfortable. A good read.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
Helpful Score: 1
This is a great book! I love how it goes back and forth between Jacobs life in his twenties and as an elderly man. Brings forth several issues/fears that many have about aging. Lots of interesting things about the circus. Loved the old pictures.
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Helpful Score: 1
I liked this book so much that I read it in one day. As a reader you get so involved you think you are really part of the story, even if you are just a "fly on the wall". The ending was PERFECT too. Not a single disappointing page in the entire book.
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Helpful Score: 1
If you are interested in elephants, early 20th Century history, circus life, or just like a good read than this book is for you. Just beware that is can get quite graphic in its portrayal of circus life, human behavior and treatment of animals. I highly recommend this book to the avid reader and animal lover, and circus or train enthusiast.
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Helpful Score: 1
This has got to be one of my all time favorite books. It made me smile, cry, and laugh. It was a really good story and it's probably one of the few books I could read over and over again. I loved learning the history behind the circus and that time period.
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Helpful Score: 1
Surprisingly easy read. I looked forward to reading and wondered where the story was going. Very well written, makes you relate to this 1930's, gritty, dark circus life that you thought you had no interest in. I think this one is a keeper, for a reread at some point.
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Helpful Score: 1
I loved this book...it is a beautifully told story and a page turner! I was sad when it was over! Definitely worth the read.
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Helpful Score: 1
I sincerely hope that whoever receives this book via PBS gets a decent looking copy, because YOU WILL WANT TO KEEP IT. I am not letting mine go. This is simply an amazing book that everyone should read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Helpful Score: 1
I, like others, worried that this book was over-hyped, that I would find myself bored and skimming pages just to make it to the final chapter. That didn't happen.

Sara Gruen presents two worlds: A 1930's post-depression train-traveling circus and a present-day assisted care living facility for elderly persons. While most of the story takes place in the former setting, both are populated with vibrant and memorable characters.

Part historical novel, part love-story, part coming of age tale, Water for Elephants is an engaging read about finding yourself and fighting for what you love.
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Helpful Score: 1
An interesting novel on an uncommon subject - a circus! When a Depression-ear vet student's parents are killed weeks short of his completing his degree, leaving him destitute, he runs away and, by accident, joins the circus. The story of the circus, its personalities and its animals is facinating.
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Helpful Score: 1
I loved this book! A wonderful story - I was sorry when it ended. Highly recommended, not only for the interesting circus lore, but for the characterizations.
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Helpful Score: 1
What a great story about a circus.It almost makes you want to join one.What a great love story.The author does such a wonderful job you can relate to the characters.Its also a love story between a man and his elephant.This story makes you stand up and cheer.Its also very emotional.This is one of my very favorite books.
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Helpful Score: 1
What a great book! A totally fascinating look inside the circus world in the days of the Depression. I enjoyed this, it was time well-spent. The extensive research and first-hand interviewing that Gruen did to write the book enabled her to add real-life anecdotes from the circus world to the tale -which then made the book that much more fascinating. I loved Rosie! You'll enjoy this book!
reviewed Water for Elephants on + 11 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Overrated? Yes, but still worth reading. The good: the Depression-era circus is fascinating and the story of the animals & good-hearted people breaks your heart. I particularly liked the main character & the perspective of him recounting his circus days from the nursing home was well-written. The not-so-good: I was never too convinced of the love story between Jacob & Marlena and I found the ending to rush up very fast and be a little over the top.

My opinion is to give this a chance, but not have the sky-high expectations that I had after reading so many glowing reviews.
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Helpful Score: 1
One of the best books that I've ever read!
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Helpful Score: 1
We read this for my book club. I really enjoyed the story and the pace was excellent. The characters were well done and I ejoyed the time period. I would highly recommend this book.
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Helpful Score: 1
I really wanted to love this book, because of all of the hype. In the end, it was just another book, nothing memorable to me at all. The best part of the book was the elephant...
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I'm not a fan of circuses, so I wasn't really excited to read this book. But I am so glad I did! It was captivating! I finished it several weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about it!
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Helpful Score: 1
I enjoyed this read a great deal. A wonderfully written book; it will make you laugh and it will make you weep....everything a good book should do. This is an easy book to read; nothing heavy or complicated to digest but a look into circus life of days long gone. I highly recommend this book.
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I read this book three weeks ago, or I should say I TRIED to read it. The premise seemed good, but the author never grabbed my interest. I found myself constantly skipping ahead a page or two. The abuse of the animals sickened me of course as I work with exotic animal rescues that were often abused. I finished it in two hours. A gritty story of circus life through a boy's eyes. The characters were kind of interesting, but the story seemed seemed to drag for me. The mystery never interested me and the ending was disappointing. I had hoped it would redeem the story, but alas, not for me. I gave the book to a young person after describing the story to her. She seemed to enjoy it a bit more then I did.
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This is an absolutely fabulous book on several levels! Five stars, no question. Level 1: with a depression-era timeline, we discover or re-discover just how hard times were and what simple pleasures a circus coming to town could bring.
Level 2: What was it like to be a part of a travelling circus--not a great one, maybe not even a second-rate one, but how they were probably similar to Ringling Brothers, rolling into town, setting up the tents, running a parade through town as advertisement, getting the rubes (patrons) in and flim-flamming them. Level 3: a bit of romance thrown in to provide the conflict. Level 4: told through the first person account by a 90 or 93 year old man (he is not sure which) who is the narrator. The insight and the humor blended in to this tale is so realistic. Here is an old man in an assiste-living facility, still with all his marbles, but living and re-acting to being patronized by the nurses and attendants. There is so much truth here about aging, but told with great humor and laugh-out-loud dialogue. The ending is perfect and brings about a great deal of satisfaction to having read a totally wonderful story.
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I loved this book! I love history and really like learning about "the Great Drepression" even if it is fiction, Gruen tells the story of life well from what has been re-accouted to me. I had been wanting to read this so you better believe I voted for this one with my monthly book group!
I fell in love with the main character from the get go( his way of finding his way no matter how bad the trouble reminds me of my Grand dad)He was such a colorfully written character.
I hope everyone who reads this loves it as much as I did!
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I had this book in my hands at the store several times but always put it back cuz I didn't think I would like it. What...an elderly man and a circus? I just don't see the connection.

A friend finally convinced me to read this and boy and I glad I did! It was so awesome. The book flows easily from each chapter and let me tell you that it does all tie in nicely together and the ending is great.

I passed this book on to my mom who LOVED it too. I have given it to a co-worker who should start reading it soon. I don't keep too many books cuz my house would be over-flowed with books but I am seriously thinking of keeping this book.
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This is an excellent read. From the beginning I was cheering on the main character through his tough times. It was a good description overall of circus life during the depresion. I felt so sorry for the way the elephant was treated, and chuckled at her antics. The antagonists were easy to hate and I wanted to throw them off the train immediately.
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This story which takes place in the 1930's, involves a well educated young man who is fresh from Cornell University. He runs from home after a terrible accident that kills his parents, and joins the Circus. Sounds like a typical run-away-from-home-and-join-the-circus-story? Not. I couldn't put this book down! Awesome read, even if it did include some animal abuse. But hey, we're talking circus here, in the 30's to boot. Well worth the read... I loved the main character, Jacob.
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After several contemplations and reading of reviews, i finally got this book. I didn't think i'd care for the circus-scene...but i have to say it was interesting, and i really got to love Jacob (both young and old). I feel i learned a lot about how a circus operates and it was pretty interesting. I did not, however like the way the animals were treated, but that doesn't damper how i review this book, as Gruen was simply using her research to authenticate her circus portrayal. I believe the author, who before writing this book, had never even been to a a cicrus did a great job creating the atmoshpere and i like the inclusion of the pictures here and there. Overall, this was a great book about survival, love and "life under the big top"....and i loooove Rosie (the elephant!)
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Excellent character study. Lots of interesting information about circuses and circus people.Endearing central character and of course the elephant!!Very good read.
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I work for the Circus (in the here & now) and I was shocked by this book! However, my husband bought it for me because I do work for the Circus and also because I love Elephants and am blessed to work with them AND because Stephen King recommended this book.

It was sooooooooooooo good I couldn't believe it. The writing is excellent, the plot tight and I felt that I had read a piece of literature when I finished (yet it was a page turner, for sure!) ENJOY!!!
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I absolutely fell in love with this book. It had been sitting on my bookshelf for close to a year, and everytime I would pick it up I'd think: I don't want to read about a circus. How boring. But, to say I was pleasantly surprised is a complete understatement. The transition from past to present throughout the book added a lot of depth to the story. I felt truly drawn into the main character's life, and his "present" situation and thoughts added meaning to his past reflections. I loved the intesity of the characters - each had a very distinct and vivid personality. I also really enjoyed the time period in which the story takes place. Gruen does a wonderful job of drawing the reader into an exciting and sensual world that he or she may not have otherwise visited.

I am, usually, a reader of classic literature. Until recently, I've been quite skeptical of modern/contemporary/pop-culture (whatever you want to call it) literature, and I have a difficult time finding books that are worth reading when there are an infinite number of classics out there just waiting to be discovered. HOWEVER, Water for Elephants is a complete exception. It was refreshing to read a "contemporary" novel that wasn't unintelligent, cliche drivel (do the initials "J.P." ring a bell?).

I loved this novel so much, in fact, that I went out and got some of her other novels. I hope they are as suprisingly captivating as Water for Elephants.
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Helpful Score: 1
This was one of the greatest books I have read in a very long time. I would highly recommend it to anyone. Be prepared though there is a bit of cruelty toward animals in it.
The elder Jacob reminds me of someone very dear to my heart and I grew very fond of his behavior.
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Helpful Score: 1
I enjoyed this book very much. I have never read anything about the circus. As a result I had quite a few questions that arose which led me to do some research back to those days and found that very interesting. It is a good read for male or female.
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This book was so exciting I read it in two days. I was fascinated and felt like I was there with them. Very intense and excellent detail.
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I loved getting to know Jacob- as both a 93 year old and a 23 year old. At any age, we have struggles to deal with internally and externally. The book also depicts what life was like during even tougher economic times then we are facing at present. The novel was both funny and sad. I loved it!
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I am in the middle of this book and can't put it down. Its fabulous and one of the only books in a long time that I stay up way past midnight to read! Its a page turner!
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This was an incredible book, probably the best I've ever read. Sara Gruen has such talent in her style of description and had me wrapped from the first few pages. I was completely immersed in the era of the 30's and the dark sadness of the traveling circus. I loved reading Jacob's thoughts in the nursing home and the ending was perfect...
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If you've previously read Sara Gruen, this book is one of her best so far. Written well, easy reading, a book that was hard to put down. The facts about the Bonobo Monkeys were amazing, and the story was woven through those facts, making it a realistic read.
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Helpful Score: 1
I'm a flight attendant, and have the luxury of coming across books free of charge. I was a bit skeptical about reading this book, and wouldn't even purchase it myself in the bookstore. It was given to me by a passenger on one of my flights, and I couldn't have been more pleased if I tried! I read it in three days...I just couldn't put it down!!! It has EVERYTHING I wanted in a book...Romance, Heroism, Friendship, Tragedy, and even some Humor. This is a beautifully written,and discriptive story! A MUST read in my opinion!
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Helpful Score: 1
Riveting and gritty, with all the things that make a great book. A wonderful story with great characters and a touching main character that I could take home myself.
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I wondered if I would like this book due to the circus related storylines. But its really great. Interesting to hear about life in the early 1030's especially from a traveling circus perspective. And to read about a man's life as he ages.
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I was pleasantly surprised with the ending of this book. I was thrilled to pieces.
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Excellent! I couldn't put it down; it was the best novel I'd read in a long time, including often at 3:00 am.
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This book was great! I just fell in love with Jacob and Marlena! And on the other hand just disliked a handful of the other characters. I learned things about the circus that were so interesting. The only part I did not like was the way they treated the animals...That was very hard to read. The story ended beautifully was left smiling at the end.
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Absolutely the best book I have read in years. So interesting and convoluted with the good guys and bad guys and how it all unfolds is just like magic. The ending was phenomenal.
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Helpful Score: 1
Not only is the research and history of this book absolutely outstanding and interesting but the story line is so wonderful. It was such a great read and the only reason I am swapping it instead of keeping it is because I want to share this story with someone.
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Helpful Score: 1
Great Book. Really well developed story. It made me want to keep coming back for more and hurry up to see the end.
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I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly...it is how I would imagine things to be back in the 30's and I loved how the story is told by the man looking back on his life. The animal cruelty is there and at times breaks your heart and makes you aware that this does go on in todays traveling circus also and is a good reason to not support them.
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I really wasn't expecting to like this book - I don't generally enjoy "heartwarming" stories - but this book is really extraordinary. It's beautifully written and the characters are compelling. While it is set in a circus, with all of the freakish characters that entails, it treats each one as fully human.
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I read this book because someone I had encouraged to read, years ago, recommended it to me. So glad that I encouraged her!!! This book is well worth the read. Not something that I would normally read but highly recommend. It was a well written and interesting story.
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Very good book. Historical but also leading into current day. Proof of what love can do, overlook, and make into a good life. Also a good eye opener of our treatment of the elderly in this country.
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Cover to cover, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by Sara Gruen. From page one her story is captivating and takes the reader on a whirlwind ride behind the scenes of the circus at the end of its heyday and into the depression era. I was especially touched by the main character, Jacob Jacowski as he relives his memories of the circus while bound to a wheelchair in a nursing home.

This book will touch the hearts of anyone, especially those who were infatuated by the circus as a child or even has had an elderly relative under supervised care. Love, mystery, murder...all on a fast moving circus train! Need I say more?
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Helpful Score: 1
This book is excellent, and you will not be able to put it down.
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I enjoyed the historical content of this book. It was interesting to read about the things the people would do to survive. The animal cruelty was pretty shocking. I think our society has come a long way sine 1930. I really liked the ending of the book. It was a feel good ending when parts of the book made me feel sad. I was glad to go away from it happy.
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Probably the best book I've read in a long time. It will make you think twice about going to the circus. The story is creative and intriging--a 90 or 93-year-old man (you'll understand the uncertainty of age if you read the book!) and his coping with living in a convalescent home coupled with his flashbacks of his days of working for a circus. Loved every word and even sat in my driveway to listen to it on audio long after arriving home form work!
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I tend to like very clean literature so this book was a little hard for me to get through. It is very gruff and the language and some scenes could definitely be found offensive. That being said, it is a very good story. I love the writing and felt like I was actually in the story it was written so clearly and compellingly. If you don't find language/sexual content offensive then you'll enjoy this book.
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Helpful Score: 1
This is a wonderful look into the circus world of years gone by - I could not put this book down - just adored it! Lots of colorful characters and a look at life when America was simpler. Great love story in here....
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Helpful Score: 1
This is a must-read - among my favorites. I was not very excited about it when I read the synopsis, but it came highly recommended, and I am very glad that I picked it up. I was hooked in the first couple pages.

Excellent!
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The author, Sara Gruen, paints a melancholy love affair on the colorful tapestry of the big top circus. There are the grim, gray clouds of prohibition and depression, the black and brown residue of life on a train, the dark, blood red of animals in captivity, and the vibrant hues of the circus workers and performers. Gruen reveals to the audience the real human characteristics behind their spectacular costumes and make-up. Readers will gawk at the talented, violent, and often cruel class system within the entertainment society.

Arcing over this scene is a timeless love story of a young man and a beautiful woman who is trapped in a abusive marriage. The man is an earnest, down-on-his-luck veterinarian and woman is a lithe, spirited equestrian. The author makes no attempt to cover up the dirt and the bruises, the lusty sex, the raging anger, the frailty of old age, and the foolish, drunken stupor. Gruen allows for these weaknesses within her characters, simultaneously entrancing us with the spectacle of the story and drawing the reader closer to the performers. For, after all, the show must go on.
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Helpful Score: 1
Love it! This book not only has a great story line but it is also eye openeing for what it is like to be an old person stuck in a nursing home, and for those that work in health care, how we can treat out patients better. I enjoyed the lesson taught as well as the story line. You won't want to put the book down!
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This is a lovely book. Original content and subject matter, it is enthralling in extreme. Only someone very close to the subject matter it seems could bring the story to life. Beautifully done. Kudos to the author.
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Water for Elephants is captivating in a cotton-candy sort of way. It dissapears quickly and you can't put it down, but when you're done, you realize it had no substance and you feel kind of ill.

The plot is predictable, if you have ever read a romance novel with pretentions of literary merit, and you will recognize the characters from any number of other novels. As many other reviews have mentioned, animals are treated badly, and there is plenty of nastiness directed at humans as well.

The one redeeming feature of this book, and the reason I found it compelling, is the lovingly researched, detailed account of life with a circus during the depression. I can't say I had any interest in the subject before reading this book, but it is a fascinating glimpse into another time and place.

Personally, I felt cheated when the "mystery" was revealed, and I found the ending flatly ridiculous.
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This was a beautifully crafted story, and I found myself increasingly drawn into it. I even snuck away from my desk to read it once or twice! Each and every character will enchant you, right down to the circus animals. Absolutely spell-binding!
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This was the book that brought me back to reading again. I had not enjoyed reading for a very long time. This book helped me share the adventure of reading again. I loved every sec. of it. in the middle of the book I found myself staying up until 5am just to finish one section. I give it 10 book markers!
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I loved this book! There were times that I had tears in my eyes, laughed out loud and gasped in shock. It gave a great history of the circus back in the day. It also opened my eyes to the elderly who are "forgotten" in homes. I have to admit, I am considering keeping this book and reading again instead of posting!
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Helpful Score: 1
I went into reading this novel with no true preconceived notions about what to expect, except a story good enough that someone deemed it screenplay material.

I turned out loving every minute of reading this story. Both the story of the Jacob as an elderly man and his reminiscing about his youth in the circus were riveting, though the elderly Jacob broke my heart at times.

All in all, a wonderful book with vivid characters that I highly recommend. I have not yet seen the movie and am a bit nervous about doing so, as I can't imagine it being nearly as good as the book and I want to savor the memory of it.
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Helpful Score: 1
Amazing book. You won't be able to put it down.
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Fascinating...perfectly plotted. Without spoiling anything, I loved the endings (both in the past & the present time storylines). Well worth the read.
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Helpful Score: 1
Well, I guess I learned not to read too many reviews on books before I read them. It was a good book, fun and different. However I guess from the reviews I thought it would be a ground breaking, move the earth, profound book. I liked the main character, and I really liked his perspective as an old man in a senior home. I thought the book was simply a good, but not life changing. I hope not offend anyone else, I just think my taste may be different than others.
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Helpful Score: 1
This book sat on my bookshelf for over a year and I finally picked it up because i saw an ad about the movie. Now I am saying to myself, why did I wait so long to read this book.

Water for Elephants was so visual to me and I constantly dreamed that I was with the characters on the train. I would get up thinking about the animals and what they needed for the day. I dreamed that I was under the big top. I also could not get out of my mind the thoughts that the main character had as an older man. The author did not hold anything back and I loved that this made the character so real to me. This book was definitely a part of me while reading it and I am sure it will stick with me for awhile.

The story goes from the main character being an older man to him thinking about when he was younger and how he got involved with the circus. There is a love story that is so strong and so real.

I would recommend this book to anyone.
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I loved getting to know what life was like during the Depression. This book really puts you into the lifestyle of the circus- the good, bad, an ugly.
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This was a great book. You should believe all the good things you have been hearing. I was instantly lost into the story when I started reading.

The lonely old man in the nursing home remembering his youth in the circus is a charming tale of classic American adventure, and romance. I dare you to try and put this book down after starting it. I have read it 3 times already!!
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When I view movies that are based on stories I have not yet read, I very seldom ever get around to reading the book. I'm so glad I jumped into this book before the release of the movie with the same title - I would have missed out on an endearing read. Sara Gruen drew me in right from the beginning with this one. Being an animal lover, I did find it somewhat difficult to read through a few of the pages, but I was so invested in the outcome of the characters I had no choice but to keep going. This outstanding novel is one of the best I've read in quite a while!
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Wow! This was a fantastic book. Gruen gives the reader an intimate look into the traveling circus life in one of the hardest times for American's. Her characters are so well developed - I didn't want this one to end. Can't wait to see what Hollywood has put together to portray this wonderful novel.
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Captivating story with memorable and vivid characters. I really enjoyed this book and it was a quick read for me; I didn't want to put it down. If you have any issues with animal abuse, please be forewarned: some of the images in the book are brutal and painful to read. On the whole, a very satisfying read.
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I've read this book twice now. I thoroughly enjoyed it both times. Jacob is a wonderful character....both the young and the old Jacob. The story also has a twist at the end that you really don't expect. Would highly recommmend to everyone.
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I just finished this book about two seconds ago and everything is still lingering my head; I don't want to give too much away but this book was fantastic. I never wanted to put it down. If you enjoy romance, history, a bit of danger, and elephants then you will enjoy this book.
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An excellent read from beginning to end! I never wanted to read a book about someone who joined the circus--but this is so much more than that. Ms. Gruen does a beautiful job of bringing each character to life. I especially liked the way she developed the main character and lets the reader join him in his youth as well as in his 90's. She made him so real I could imagine myself at the ripe old age of 93 as well as the helplessness one must feel as age steals away one's youth. A joy to read--and for once an ending that is beautiful and magical at the same time.
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I completely am in love with the circus and found this to be both an entertaining read as well as informative. It was nice to see a period piece done well and address a lot of the issues that were involved with the traveling circus as well and the depression. This book had it all action, romance, animals, death defying acts and humor.
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I really loved this story. It really brought the circus to life through the eyes of an outsider. The love story was beautiful, and I enjoyed it told from the perspective of a man. I think that Rosie was my favorite character! Definately a good read.
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Jacob is in the last weeks of veterinary school at Cornell when he is hit with a massive shock: the death of both of his beloved parents, and more importantly the loss of everything he owns to the bank. This is the throws of the Depression. He does what every man would do in his situation, hops a train to anywhere only to find out it is the circus train of The Benzini Bros. Greatest Show on Earth! As the show's veterinarian he forms a close relationship with crazy August (the equestrian trainer), his wife Marlena (a performer), and Rosie (the elephant). As the days go on, life on the circus gets crazier and crazier, until one day all hell breaks loose. What will Jacob do next?

This book is narrated by two voices â that of the 90 something year old Jacob (retelling the events as he remembers them) and that of the 20 something year old Jacob (experiencing the events). The audiobook did an amazing job of casting two narrators and it made it one of the best books I have listened too. You were easily able to tell at what time you were by who was narrating and it made it feel so real.

Gruen does an amazing job of researching the life of circus workers during the Depression. At no time did I feel that the details were out of place. You could feel the desperation of the roustabouts when they were continually not paid, resorted to drinking bootleg liquor, ran out of food. Reading this book was like stepping back in time.

I loved this book! It is easily very near the top of my favorite books list. According to the authors website Fox 2000 has purchased the rights to this book to make a movie and hear rumor that Reese Witherspoon might be cast as Marlena. I think it would make a fantastic movie.

5 out of 5 stars!
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Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful story! I laughed and cried. Even if you have little interest in the seedy history of the great American circus tradition, this book will suck you right in! Peppered with fact and history, this story begins in the mind of ninety (or ninety-three, he can't remember which) year-old Jacob Jankowski. Not-quite-forgotten in a nursing home, he contents himself with harassing his nurses and complaining about the food. That is, until the circus comes to town and another elderly resident claims to have carried "water for the elephants." Jacob recalls his life as a circus veterinarian, and the wild ride that is life on a circus train. With love, cruelty, murder, and of course the bearded lady, the show must go on! Highly recommended.
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This was a great read....hard to put down.
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This is a great summer read and a compelling story about life in the circus in the early 1900s.
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I could not put this book down. I started reading it the day it arrived and stayed up late to finish it. You get so engrossed in the story it's almost sad when it's over. Great read!
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This was a wonderful book. I highly recommend it. One of the best I have read all year.
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Wonderfully detailed story that puts the reader right into the story.
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Awesome read!! A real page turner.
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I couldn't put this book down from the get go. This author is a great story teller. A very moving story.
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I loved this book and couldn't put it down. You want the story to never end!
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One of my all time favorites. Caught right in the beginning...have recommended to any body I know that loves to read.
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I loved this book. You really feel like you are traveling w/ the 3rd rate circus! Several of my friends are enjoying it on my recommendation!
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Absolutely worth your time! Moving, engrossing, suspenseful, funny, sad. Perfectly told.
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Water for Elephants is absolutely spectacular! It is chock full of interesting details regarding behind the scenes of the early days of the circus, when troupes would travel across the country by trains. It is also a tragic love story, that made me reconsider the complicated dynamics of some relationships.
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My grandmother was in the circus as a child, and this book reminded me of many of the stories she told me! I am ever thankful to Gruen for this book. I will read it repeatedly to visit my grandmother's fantastic, often - I think - embellished memories. Thank you, Sara Gruen!!!
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I enjoyed the characters in this book and was intrigued with how the circus operated at that time. Heart breaking at times and a good love story. Loved the ending.
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Because this is a book about a traveling circus, it is not the sort of book I would normally read. However, after reading it, I can see why it was a NY Times Bestseller, LA Times Bestseller, Wall Street Journal Bestseller, etc. I had a hard time putting it down.
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Seeing as the setting was the circus for this book, I was a little worried that I wouldn't like it. After reading it, I'm glad I did. I thought it was a well-written story and kept me reading late into the night to finish it. The main character was interesting and the other characters were just as likeable, minus August. I can't wait to read something else of Sara Gruens.
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Just a great book. Well written, great read, well researched. Made me want to read more that she's written and made me Google everything I could find about US circus history.
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In my opinion, this book really explores the dynamics not only between people, but also between people and animals.
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Still one of my favorite books. Wonderful read, odd but great.
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This was a very good read. Some mystery, some romance, and a satisfying surprise ending. Can't wait until the movie comes out!
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I loved it! I stayed up until after 3 am just to finish it so I could see what happened. Parts of it made me laugh, others made me cry, and some parts just plain out made me mad. I highly recommend it, expecially for animal lovers.
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The best book I've read in quite a while! I stayed up all night reading it...I couldn't put it down!
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Reading this book almost felt like watching an old movie. It was almost vaudevillian in the reading. Didn't think this would be my cup of tea, but I was pleasantly surprised by how drawn in I was by the story, how taken I was with the characters, and how vehemently I wanted revenge on the antagonists. Then, every so often I was taken out of that world and into the world of a geriatric nursing home resident and all the drama of that world and my own was prioritized and reassessed. Fantastic read on many levels.
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I held off reading this book for quite some time because I knew reading about animal abuse would greatly upset me. And it did, but it also drew me into this vivid story and involved me with these characters lives in a way that I've rarely experienced before. The rich descriptions and fast paced dialogue made me feel like I was right there with these characters watching every scene unfold before me. As a reader, I greatly appreciated that. The only parts of the book I didn't care for was the 2-3 sexual encounters. They are somewhat humorous, but like the rest of the book they are VIVID in detail and I didn't think they added to the overall story. That point aside, this is one of the best books I've read and I highly recommend it.
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Wonderful story, intriguing mystery, fascinating characters, well researched. This was a pleasure to read.
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Loved it! The subject matter (1930's circus life) was fascinating. Can't recall every reading a book that delved into this area so thoroughly. Also liked the way it was presented from the old man's recollections. Kind of gave me a "then" and "now" picture of a man with lots of spirit who'd lived a good life by his standards, but was by no means ready to call it quits yet. The ending wrapped it all up perfectly!
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I got this book because I was curious about it, and I always like to read the book before watching the movie. Makes it so that I get my own picture of the characters in my head instead of being led by the movie story. I was immediately drawn in to the story, and enjoyed the way it was told from Jacob as an old man looking back to his youth. Wonderfully descriptive, I felt his joy and pain and so many other emotions as he experienced life. It was very hard to put the book down, and I spent a very late night finishing it. I loved reading about the menagerie and the behind the scenes way of the circus. This one is a keeper for me!
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This book was wonderful. A small event in our lives can totally change the direction. Decisions made sometimes in haste can direct your lifetime but we still have opportunity to make it all work.

The view of the circus in the 1930's was wonderful. I had a great uncle who was a part of the circus in the early 1900's and never had a clue what his life could have been like. This offered a glimpse into that.
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This is one of the best books I have ever read. I have recommended it to everyone I know. Great characters that I cared about, and fascinating details about life in a small circus
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The story was interesting enough and certainly kept me engaged for the entirety of the book. I would have liked the detail to have been a bit more fleshed out. Some parts seemed to be rushed such as the ending while others were oddly long. Still a good book and everything came full circle. Endings were neat and tidy if not a bit unrealistic, but in a nice way. Not all things have to be as they would be in life. All around good book to read if you are looking for something quick though it wont be on my pile of favorites.
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It's on my shortlist of "Could not put it down, all time best reads" list.
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When someone described the book to me I thought the pretense sounded like something I would not be able to relate to but was pulled into the book and couldn't put it down.
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I couldn't put it down. What a treat to indulge myself in!
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A very good book about depression era circuses. I never would have thought so much corruption went on behind the scenes. The characters were wonderful (well most of them anyways) and Rosie is the real star of the book. Some of what happened to her was horribly sad though. A very satisfying ending.
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First of all, I have to say that I am NOT a fan of stories that have animals in them. The main reason for this is because there's usually some type of cruelty to an animal that disturbs me. Something about this book intrigued me, but even so it stayed on my bookshelf unread for months.

Once I finally decided to read it, I could NOT put it down. It was a beautifully written story with a subject matter that I found fascinating. The author did such a great job introducing the characters and wasn't afraid to make them flawed. I can't wait to read more from this author.
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What a great read! I had this on my wish list and when it came out in paperback, I couldn't wait any longer...so I bought it new! I could not put this book down and I loved how it ended! I really liked the story told from the perspective of both young and old Jacob.
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This was a wonderful book. Original storyline and powerfully written. It's about life in the circus during the Depression and about growing old. The main character, Jacob, ran out of money while in veterinary school so was never able to sit for his finals and become a vet. He joined the circus and took care of the animals. He learns quickly that the circus is not the place you dream of when you consider running away to join it.
Donna V.
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This was a captivating eye-opener of a book about circus life during the Great Depression.
There were parts that were hard to read. The cruelty, injustices, dangers and life style were beyond imagination. The author, Sara Gruen, paid a wonderful tribute to circuses by going behind the scenes and allowing us to be part of the mayhem.
I loved this book from the first opening chapter until the last closing sentence.
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Excellent read. Read it right after seeing the movie and it was very much the same- and they were both excellent.
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I was really surprised by this book, I don't usually read off the best seller list, its usually not the kind of books I like, but, this was a greatr book and I have recommended it to my friends and they have enjoyed it as well. I hope you give this book a chance it is well worht the read
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I was skeptical at first; but this is an awesome book. Aside from opening doors to look into life in the Great Depresssion and into life in a circus, it opened doors for me for a look into life as an elderly person.

This book will haunt me for many reasons; animal cruelty, aging, life in the Great Depression; it has it all.
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I guess you could say that this book was about running away to join the circus. The story centers around Jacob Jankowski, now in a retirement home, remembering how he joined a circus as a vet during the 1930s.

The book, which is largely dialog-driven, describes how Jacob had to feel his way around the strong hierarchy of circus-workers, often a very brutal bunch, both to each other and to the animals. Some people will be disturbed by the description of cruelty to the animals.

It's also a romance. Jacob falls in love with Marlena, a horseback rider and wife of August, a manic-depressive animal-trainer who abuses his wife and animals alike one moment, and who is absolutely charming the next.

There's also a thread of brotherly bonding here. Jacob is forced to board with Walter, a dwarf clown, who is very cold to him at first, but Jacob wins him over after treating his dog. Other circus workers also bond with Jacob after demonstrations of kindness.

For many readers of this book, the relationship that will be remembered most will be that of Jacob with Rosie, an elephant that the circus buys, who is thought to be stupid, until Jacob makes a discovery!

One nice touch was the series of photographs of circus life in the 1930s, and it appears that it was the discovery of these kinds of photos that inspired the author to write this novel.

In the end, the book does become uplifting, despite its sometimes dark themes. If I had any complaints it might be that some of the characters were a little simplistic.
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This book definitely lives up to the hype you may have heard about it. I am often wary of books that are "must reads" because they often let me down. This was a great story that lets us all know that even though your life may not take the planned out path that you once thought it would, sometimes those unexpected turns can make life better than you ever thought possible. It has a little something for everyone.
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Helpful Score: 1
This was a great book to read. I had it on my shelf for 5 months, and I never found the excitement to read it. Then I kept hearing what a good book it was, and how they are thinking of making it into a movie. I loved it and would definitely suggest it.
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That this book sold so well is a testament to the power of marketing. "Water for Elephants" has a plodding, implausible plot told through stilted, pedestrian writing, exactly as you might expect from a technical writer. Our book club was universally disappointed by this book, which several of us had been looking forward to reading. Save your money and - more importantly - your time. Skip "Water for Elephants."
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Definitely not a subject I knew anything about prior to reading and the author made it so interesting! Once you get into the book it's fascinating. The characters are so vivid and you care so much about each of them. Funny and sweet, I could not put it down.
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Very interesting story about a subject that is intriguing (circus life). Well written, enjoyed it very much!
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This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
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Wonderful story set in a Depression-era, low budget circus. The characters are well drawn, colorful and believable. The screenplay for this book was on the 2009 Black List and is currently on the fast track to be made into a film this year. The leads are rumored to be Robert Pattinson as Jacob, Reese Witherspoon as Marlena, and recent Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as August. Direction by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend). The screenplay is very faithful to the book, but there's nothing like reading the book. Definitely recommended.
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This book is amazing. Very quick read. You won't want to put it down. It's a nice story that in a way mirrors today's financial society/climate. It's also lovely for people who love animals. Unless you are against performing animals all together. Either way it stands out as a period turning point from how animals were treating to how animals SHOULD be treated.
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A wonderful story that starts at the end, then gives you the whole story. I couldn't put it down! There's a reason it's a bestseller!
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I can't praise this book highly enough. It was wonderful. I had no idea a story about the circus could be so compelling.
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Another book I could not get into. I wanted to know what happened, so about 2/3 of the way through or so I just skipped to the end and skimmed it. There were parts in this book that just killed me to read, which is why, in the end, I stopped. I wanted to cry. It's very moving, but it was breaking my heart. I don't want to give it away, so that's all I'll say.
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Wonderful story
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This book is about the memories of being in the circus as told by Jacob Jankowski. A ninety- something year old loveable, lonely man.
This was a super good story. I loved it. It made me want to visit the circus again.
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Lovely lovely story.
The narrative is told from two perspectives, young Jacob and old Jacob. The author pulls this off marvelously while pulling you into the world of a depression era traveling circus. The b/w photos of old traveling circus' that separate each chapter are fantastic touches that I loved.
Highly recommended.
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Great book expecially to listen to the story unfold as the character goes from being in his nineties to a young man in his twenties. Best book I have read this year.
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A romantic mystery comedy drama! This book has it all. I loved every page and have recommended it to everyone that I know. It's like sitting with a beloved friend and hearing a scandalous story of his past that you never knew or would have believed could have happened.
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The writing is wonderful, the topic is fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed a genre I didn't think I would. You can't go wrong with this book/CD.
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Very interesting novel. Great Book CLub selection!
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My grandfather is about to turn 90 and he's got a touch of dementia. This book really helped me understand what may be going through his mind. My family is now fighting over who gets to read it next. If you have a loved one who is aging, it is a must read. It makes me want to run away and join the circus.
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An old man remembers his years in the circus. A charming book. I loved this book.
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This book as every bit as good as I had been told!
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I could not put this book down. Very enjoyable reading. My favorite book of the year. Highly recommend.
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Wow a rolicking ride. Very vivid characters, great story. I'll be passing this book on to the next reader but I'm on the lookout for my own copy
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One of the best books I've read in awhile...lives up to its reviews.
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This book was so good! I couldn't put it down. The story is very captivating.
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Wonderful, enjoyable, easy read!!! Ending is quite a suprise.
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A little quirky. Well written, following circus life in the 1930's. There are a lot of circus animals in the book and even though I knew the story wasn't true, I had a hard time with the animal treatment, as you can imagine in a circus in the 30's, in the book. That was a tough read for me.
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This book hooked me in the first chapter. It is told from the perspective of Jacob, a man in his 90's looking back on his unexpected career with the circus beginning in 1932. Gruen skillfully blends the realities of the circus with her gripping tale of love, murder, deceit, friendship, and adventure.

This is a must-read!
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I really liked this book. It was a little like the series on HBO about depression era traveling circuses. I didn't want it to end.
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Water for Elephants is a wonderfully written story that is easy to read yet very satisfying. The novel starts with the protagonist in an "assisted living" (NOT nursing home) at the age of "90 or 93" who can tell? Then we zoom to Jacob Jankowski as a 23 year old young man (who is unhappy about still being a virgin)- his parents die when he was studying to be a vet at Cornell, and soon after he finds that his family was on the verge of losing everything for having put him in university. His Father, a vet himself, has a soft heart and takes anything for payment - vegetables mostly, much to the chagrin of Jacob, who discovers such bills after gong through his Father's records. Very interesting look into this young man's life, struggles and the life and struggles of the employees and bosses of the old style circus which often keeps them captive, like their performing animals. must read.
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I got so lost in this book! It was an enchanting story and moved at the perfect pace. I went though every emotion with this book- anger, sorrow, suspense, joy, it was great. I loved it!
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I loved, loved, loved this book! The way it was written really made me feel what the characters were feeling and I just fell in love with the old version of Jacob. He was so sweet and enduring. I just wanted to go to the home he was in and sit with him for hours to listen to his stories! It was nothing like what I was expecting, it was so much more. I read the book, cover to cover, in 2 days. It was that good!
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WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is one of the BEST books I have read! LOVED IT!
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This was our book club read for the month of March and well worth the time. It was an eye opening look into what life could be like with the circus in post depression times. Loved it!
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I loved this book. I highly recommend it. It was a great tale of circus life and also about the character's feelings of wanting to turn back time.
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Well written book. Although the present day ramblings by the 90 year old man was less interesting it did put a perspective on the rest of the story. Initially I was disappointed how the book was ended but after discussing it with others, I find that it is a plausible ending . . . it lacked some of the logic and detail that the rest of the story held. The story did contain discriptions of animal cruelty but not done in excess -- more statements of reality. My favorite passage from the book is the first three paragraphs of Chapter 1. Like The begining of Tale of Two Cities this is a classic opening to the story and I rank it amoung the best begginings.
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Ms. Gruen is a very good story teller. I can't say that the book was lacking in any way - it was captivating. It felt very real. But it was just so depressing! I almost felt beaten up by the time I finished it. I have read Grapes of Wrath and many other "non warm and fuzzy" books. I think this one was different for me in that it was not just the circumstances that were tragic, but also just the pure cruelty of people towards each other and animals. Not for survival, but ego and greed. That said, the author paints a vivid, interesting tale.
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Simply amazing. A must read.
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Wonderful story of a circus vet. It provided a great insight into an American lifestyle that one may not have otherwise seen. Worth the time!
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Really enjoyed this book. Makes you think about "the good old days".
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Water for Elephants was a great read. It quickly caught my interest and while I could put it down, I couldn't wait to pick it back up. Having worked in a nursing home, the perspective of an older man was interesting and different.
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Excellent story of life in the circus in 1931 - clever ending, couldn't put it down, read it in one day.
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What an awesome book!!!! I like the way it tells of a mans way of the circus life. As he was young-and old
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Easy, pleasant read. I really enjoyed the storyline, characters, etc.
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I picked this book up as an audio book when I was embarking on a 4 day trip. I didn't know anything about the book, I didn't know anything about the author. When I got started into it, I was immediately sucked into the story. I LOVED it. It's written as a 90 (or 93) year old man, and his memories of his 23 year old self. It's moving. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll continue to think of this book for weeks to come.
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One of the best books , I dare say, that I have ever read. I will go to Amazon to Buy a hardcover. Cannot put it down & was very hard for me to post & part with.
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What an amazing story. I am at a loss for words so am unable to tell you specifically how, but I am changed forever by this story. In a really beautiful way.
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I very much enjoyed this novel; a nice story told across time in a very unusual setting--the time of the circus trains during the depression. A good example of an intriguing backdrop serving as a great setting for a poignant story. Highly recommended.
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I really didn't want to read this book - I'm not a circus fan, and it just didn't look interesting. Boy was I wrong! I couldn't put it down.

You can read my complete review here.
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I really enjoyed this book! I like how Gruen took true stories that she collected and wove them into a very well written, enjoyable tale of circus life in the 30s.
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I really enjoyed this book! It was very interesting and well worth the read. It kept my interest very easily! I really enjoyed the ending the author brought everything together.
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I looked forward to reading this book ever since the movie based on it was announced but by the time I finally got my hands on the paperback the much-anticipated film was so close to release that I decided to wait to read the book until after the movie has faded from my memory. And so it is only now that I've read it, staying up late to enjoy Sara Gruen's beautiful prose and to be impressed by the diverse cast of the book's characters. Getting to know Jacob, Marlena, Rosemary, Walter, Camel and even August and Uncle Al was an absolute delight, especially since they continued developing until the very end, revealing new facets of their personalities and details about their past that made them who they are.
The narrative alternates between the past, set in 1930s, and the present, which could really be now or 10 years ago, we don't get much information as to what decade it is. In the present the 90, or 93-year-old Jacob is at a nursing home, struggling with his age and helplessness and remembering the beginning of his life at the circus and the beginning of his love affair with Marlena, the beautiful and talented performer in the liberty horse act. In the past he is 23, living the most exciting and the most perilous months of his life. Sometimes the back and forth such as this can be confusing, detracting from the experience, but in this particular case it was executed so well that seeing the past and the present helped create a fuller picture. It's so much easier to understand old Jacob and his frustrations when you know what he's lived through, and watching the events of the early 1930s unfold you always have a sense that it's not just a story, it's the turning point in a life, several lives in fact.
Although Jacob's relationship with Marlena is central to the story and is a catalyst for pretty much everything that happens my favorite relationships are the ones he has with Rosemary and Walter. They may not be as emotionally charged, but there is a depth and a poignancy to them that I didn't see in his relationship with Marlena. Similarly, I was a bit surprised when he talked about being almost in love with the elephant, feeling protective of her and not being able to let her go when the time came. Throughout the book I didn't see much distinction in his connection with Rosie and the rest of the animals in the menagerie apart from the fact that she was the newest and most expensive member of the team and a lot of attention was paid to her. If I had to choose one animal with whom I could see he had a bond it would be Bobo the ape. There was the tenderness and the affection that wasn't present in the scenes with Rosie, that's where I could see a friendship being born. With the two main relationships feeling under-developed I couldn't help but think that Ms. Gruen did a wonderful job with the secondary cast but could've devoted more attention to the main players.
As much as I enjoyed the novel the very end of it seemed like a bit of a stretch to me. Up until then I believed everything that happened. It seemed logical and completely plausible with even the most outrageous turns of events seeming unexpected and amazing at the most. This is circus after all, anything can happen there. But when it came to the final chapters I just couldn't shake the feeling that I didn't believe it. I can't tell you more but once you read the book I'd love to hear what you thought because this really is a very good novel and I'll wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. After all, may be I'm just becoming picky :)
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I can't say enough great things about this book. I didn't want it to end!!!
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An enjoyable read, that challenges you views of what really transpires behind the "big top". This book is historically accurate, and provides a perfect backdrop for the story to unfold.
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This is one of my favorite books of all time. PLEASE read it. you will love it. i was so sad when it was over. extremely interesting.
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Wonderful book! I was absorbed into this book. It engaged me completely. I cheered at the end. Read it. I'm hanging on to my copy to encourage my book group to read it. And, then I'll put it in my "keep this book" collection.
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This has become one of my favorite books.
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This is one of the best books I have read in awhile. It grips you in the beginning and holds you to the very end.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sentimental and romantic old-time circus adventure story..., March 30, 2011

Ninety-three-year-old Jacob Jankowski, an unhappy resident of a nursing home, reminisces about his life with the traveling train circus -- Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth -- during the Great Depression. In and out of a small town, usually an overnight, the performers and working men put on a show that involves animals, freaks (the dwarf and the fat lady), the clowns, and all manner of circus act entertainment including a tent just for "gentlemen" and other delights.

Jacob's parents died just as he was about to write his final exams in veterinary school at Cornell University. Because of the hard economic times, his parents mortgaged everything to pay his tuition and thus he was left grief-stricken AND penniless. He ends up joining the Benzini Brothers by an accident of good timing and, because of his vet training, he ends up hired on to care for the horses and other animals. Along the way, the circus owner purchases an elephant named Rosie; she becomes a special part of this story.

Author Sara Gruen weaves a tale of hooking the rubes into coming to the show, second-rate performances that managed to wow the audiences, boozy nights, in-fighting among those with the train, backbreaking work, and other fascinating details of the traveling circus. Jacob quickly assimilates into the hard life and makes the mistake of falling in love with Marlena, one of the performers who has a sadistic husband. Not only cruel to his wife, August also beats and mistreats the animals. What will become of Jacob and the rest of the members of this group of misfits, outcasts, and showmen?

Readers will savor the story and applaud the somewhat maudlin ending. I read it quickly and found it very sweet and entertaining; recommended for teens and adults. Enjoy!
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There is a class ranking in the circus troops? Wow, I enjoyed the story, enjoyed the characters, and recommend Water for Elephants for anyone who enjoys a story outside of the norm. I've shared this book with several friends who have also become immersed.
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Loved it. Excellent insight to the working of a circus "back in the day".
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Excellent book
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It took me awhile to actually want to read this book, because I didn't think I'd like a book about the circus. However, I'm SO glad I read it. It was probably in the top 10 of best books I've read. I loved the story and couldn't put it down towards the end!
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Phenominal! It was so good in fact that I refuse to watch the movie! A definite re-read!
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Helpful Score: 1
Makes you want to run away with the circus and what a delightful ending! Highly recommend
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Helpful Score: 1
This is an awesome book! I loved it! Probably my favorite in a very long time!!
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Helpful Score: 1
An amazing story within a story. Wonderful story about the depression era circus life but also a very touching story about valuing our elders. Great characters. Book is so well written you can picture every detail of a character or scene in your mind's eye. A GREAT book!
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Helpful Score: 1
Awesome read!!
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Helpful Score: 1
Historical Ficiton. * * * *. The past comes to life as fate leads an aspiring college veterinarian to board a traveling circus train. Well researched novel brings you into the trials and tribulations of these nomadic entertainers, including a unique pachyderm.
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Helpful Score: 1
This was an incredible page turner, filled with imagery about the circus and behind the scenes drama. I found myself not wanting the book to end and when it did, I found myself wanting to know even MORE about the characters. A truly great read and worth all the good reviews it's gotten.
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Helpful Score: 1
The book was well written and kept my interest til the very end. Am keeping book in my collection to re read in the future.
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Helpful Score: 1
Good story and a pleasure to read. My critique is of the portrayal of a specific mental illness that is revealed of one of the characters towards the end of the book. It is not an entirely accurate description of schizophrenia and my fear is that it reinforces the notion that persons with mental illness are prone to violence when, in fact, nonagression is much more often the case.
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Helpful Score: 1
An incredible book! I could hear and picture all of the things that this man was going through.
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Helpful Score: 1
I had no interest in reading this book when it came out, but a friend eventually talked me into it. Boy , am I glad she did! If it is possible to love a book too much, then this one would be the one. The story and characters caught me from the first chapter and it only grew from there. This book made me smile, laugh, frown, cry and get angry. Finally, it ended with me cheering for the main character. What a way to live, what a way to go.
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I absolutely loved this book. Read it while traveling in Asia and honestly could not put it down. The protagonist/narrator pulls you in immediately and as his story unfolds you can't help but cheer as he overcomes enormous challenges and difficulties. His voice keeps you coming back.
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Great book!
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I did not like this book...nor did I finish it. The language was horrible and some very discriptive sex scenes...not my cup of tea
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I just finished reading this book and I will never again consider not reading a book because I don't think that I'd be interested in the setting, in this instance, circus life during the Depression. What an absolutely fabulous book. I have not read a book this wonderful in many years. It has so many different aspects to it, seemingly opposite, but yet, so intertwined-- love and hate, poverty and wealth, enemies and deep friendships, descriptions of life from a youth's perspective and from that of a 93 year old man, Jacob. I can't say anything more enlightening than the many, many reviews of this book, so I will simply end by saying....READ IT! You will NOT be disappointed!!
reviewed Water for Elephants on
I thoroughly enjoyed Water for Elephants. It was a different "kind" of story which lifted me out of my normal genre of books I tend to read. I found it totally refreshing and allowed me a view of some unusual characters.
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water for elephants was brilliant!!I loved it! It was wonderful!
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I was hesitant to read this book because I typically only enjoy romance novels. I am so glad I decided to read it. It was wonderful. I found it beautiful written and I couldn't have enjoyed the ending more it was perfect.
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Loved this book! Interesting and engaging.
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Well written, quick read. However, I should have known I would have some difficulty with this book, being the animal lover that I am. Circuses, especially in the early part of the 20th century, had a reputation for animal cruelty as well as mistreatment of their staff and performers. Zoos were no different. I was a child in New York in the late 1940's and I remember visiting the Bronx Zoo and being terrified of the huge elephants, tugging on their chained feet and trumpeting so loudly. I am glad this book had an ending that leaves the reader feeling good, otherwise I would have hated it!
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This was an amazing book. A little bit of a reminder of aging and mortality but all in all a wonderfully written engrossing story.
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This book really gave me insite to the life of circus people. I thought it was very detailed and well written. Im going to share it with my sister!
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Fascinating book that takes you back in time to a world in Depression that knew nothing of mental illness and how to deal with it. Loved this page turner!
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I loved this book! Great story and a great read!!!
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A cute story of the life of Jacob Jankowski. A very vivid story about the trials of Jacob's life as a unplanned circus vet during the 1930's depression era. It begins with him as an old man, 93 to be exact, and how he is worried that he is losing touch with reality and becoming one of those senile folks he sees in his assisted living home. Jacob is sharp as a tack though and completely aware of what he still wants out of life. Each chapter bounces him from the present, age 93, to his youth at 23...where we begin his life story at college and the terrible events that catapult him to a rocky adventure with a circus at the beginning of the depression era.

In the beginning, we learn that Jacob has lost his parents to a terrible car accident and left him penniless as the depression begins to unfold over America. Jacob leaves college and wonders aimlessly until he happens upon a moving circus train that provides an escape from loneliness and loss. Jacob joins the circus because he has no where else to go.

Jacob meets Marlena and August after he has stowed away on the circus train of the Benzini Brother's Circus. Marlena is the star of the show with her equestrian act and August is a circus boss. She has a natural talent of speaking to the animals and the charisma of an angel. Jacob falls for Marlena even though she married a man, August, to escape her family to a new life on her own terms, or so she thought. August isn't what he appears and is a feared character in this story. August has violent tendencies toward people and animals. He can't be trusted.

The circus is a third rate circus which doesn't bode well for anyone. "Red lighting" (being thrown from a speeding train) occurs often to keep the circus "profitable" and paychecks are usually hard to come by. As they struggle to keep the circus together, they happen upon an elephant, by the name of Rosie, who needs employment. It's soon believed that Rosie has no talent and was a worthless purchase, but Jacob observes that Rosie is trained ... in Polish which may lead to an amazing act. However, tragically Marlena is injured and we endure the wrath of August as he shows his anger towards Rosie.

I thought the story was entertaining, had a great twist in the plot, and an unexpected ending. The author's able to paint a pretty vivid picture of this "menagerie," but in the end I felt the love story could have been better established. I just didn't feel the strong love connection between the characters that I expected. It just didn't tug at the heart-strings. They are currently bringing this book to the big screen, so it will be interesting to see how it translates to the movie screen.

My blog: http://cbbookreviews.blogspot.com/
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I had heard so much about this book that I ran out and bought the hardback edition. I do not get all the hype. It was, I thought, a mediocre read that I never finished.
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Liked the story, didn't love the author. I feel like this story could have been told better by someone who left a little more to the imagination when it comes to all the gratuitous sex that seems to riffle the pages of this book.
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Wow what a awesome read depicting the circus in the times of the Great Depression. Do not let the title fool you its not strictly about elephants. Its a life in the circus with all the characters from the Ring Master to the lowest day labors.

Altho the novel is fiction the pictures are actual reprints and quite interesting.
reviewed Water for Elephants on
This is a good book. It kept my interest from beginning to end. I would recommend this book to anyone.
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Wow you won't be able to put this book down! I have lent my copy to several friends and everyone absolutely loved it. It has ever aspect you could ever want from a book. Read it before the movie comes out I heard one was in the works!
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I loved it and look forward to the movie!
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I have no qualms about how well this book was written and how fascination the story was, the only reason I did not give this book a higher rating was because I am very sensitive to the treatment of animals and found this book a little difficult to stomach. I felt the story could have been just as rich and compelling without the constant description of animal abuse.
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Wow... What a book. I was grabbed by the prologue and it just got better from there. Once I started reading I couldn't put it down. Sara Gruen is truly a gifted writer. I have read one other book from her, which had me hooked, but not as hard as this one. Order your copy today, you won't be dissapointed.
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I loved this book!
It gives you such a glimpse into what life was 'back then' and what it has become now. You really feel like you get to know each character of the book and come to like some. and dislike others. A great read
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I really enjoyed this book. I was not too interested in the present tense side of the story but I can overlook that. I loved Rosie, she is a great character, so lovable and funny.
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I loved this book!

It was one of those books that I couldn't put down so I read it in about 2 days.

The characters were deep and interesting, the story engaging - sometimes depressing, sometimes humorous, sometimes nauseating - and the ending was neither predictable or "happily ever after" which is nice.

I recommended this book to all my friends and family because I enjoyed it so much.
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I picked this up not knowing what to expect, and I could not put it down. This is a fully engaging, fantastic ride along with a train circus in Depression era America. There's a little mystery, passion and a lot of adventure. Most of all, it's gritty and real. I loved this book, and I wanted the story to go on and on. Feeling fully immersed in a story like this is just priceless.
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I thought this book was a quick and enjoyable read. I would recommend it.
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After reading this book, I wanted to visit everyone who might be "forgotten" in the nursing homes and take them to the circus! Even though the main character, Jacob, is an ornery old man you cant help but love him! This was especially interesting because you get a taste of how it really would be like to "run off and join the circus". I'll admit some parts made me want to jump through the pages and slap some sense into the characters but it was an overall great story for me!
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I couldn't put it down. I read the whole book in less than a week. Excellent! I highly recommend!
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INCREDIBLE BOOK! Highly recommend!
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a little dragged out at parts but overall I really liked it.
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This book reminds me of the move big fish a little bit.
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This reminds me of the best of John Irving's books, in that the characters are so colorful and layered that the book skates by and before you know it, it's done and you're wishing there was more. I appreciated the perspective of 90 (or 93?) year old Jacob looking back at events that are so foreign to most of us that the only place we can live them is in books.
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The minute I finished reading this book I called my mother and told her she had to read it also. From start to finish I couldn't put it down. Perhaps because there is now a movie in production of the book and I can put faces to the characters but I was able to get into the characters immediately and was actually very sad at the end; to have to say goodbye to Jacob. I don't want to put any spoilers on here; don't want to ruin it for anyone...read it, it will be the best couple of days of your life (because you won't be able to put it down)... enjoy...
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I didn't know what to think at first, because ready about the circus really didn't seem that interesting, but I kept with it because I want to see the movie eventually. Once you get into the characters and story line, its really interesting how it flashes back to the main character telling his story for the past (think The Notebook by Sparks) Now that I am finished, I'd love to read again and even more excited to see the movie!!
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A deft handling of old age and a gripping plot combine to make this a must read novel.
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A wonderful journey through a man's life. You'll laugh and cry and other emotions will hit you also but I'LL tell you this much...the book was definitely better then the movie.
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Nicely written. Good for all adult ages.
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This is my second time reading this book. It is just like running away to be in the circus, if you lived in the Depression. The characters are marvelously real. I had a hard time putting this down, which was sad because I read it so fast!
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My daughter has been asking me to read this book for years. I resisted because I read the synopsis and thought a story about a circus in the era of the great depression? Nah. I finally read it and gave it a go and couldnt put the book down. Seriously this is one of the best books Ive read in years! I felt like I was right there. The narrative shifts back and forth between old Jacob and young Jacob seamlessly. I strongly regret waiting so long to read this book. I would have paid full price. It is a haunting story and often had me thinking of my own aging. What will it feel like to be inside a body that is old and doesnt function like it used to, yet the mind still feels young?
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I enjoyed very much reading this book, and I would recommend it to anyone. I liked the format, and I learned things about circus life that surprised me.
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Absolutely loved this book! My great grandfather was an elephant trainer for the Ringling Bros during the same time period that this story is set in. He adored his elephants! This is a beautifully well written book that far surpassed the movie! AMAZING! :-)
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Good read!
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good story, a few twists and turns and surprises
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Good story, a real American tale. The other side of the circus that the "rubes" don't normally get to see. The tale is told in a 90 (or 93) year old man's first hand account, with respect to historical accuracy of the time of the Depression. Recommend.
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Great book!!
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There are two stories running parallel to one another, the first is of the young Jacob, experiencing the circus in the first person, the second story is the much older Jacob reminiscing.
The perspective changes from one to the other, but it isn't annoying as I find it to be in some books, it is beautiful providing a full 360 degree perspective.
The story is beautiful in many regards, Jacobs deep affection and abiding love for the animals and then his love for the aerobic performer, Marlena. In contrast, you have a dark side of the circus and how they survived during the depression.
This poignant story left me in tears. This is my first read of Sara Gruen and I will seek out her other books.
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I thought it was a bit raunchy. There was a masterbation scene a bit too graphic for my taste. Also, the plot was forgettable.
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Really good stories. Sometimes time lines that go from past to rpresent and back are hard to follow but these were seemless. Liked the pictures too; will have to see the movie now.
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wonderful book. ill read it again
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Amazing. The author really did her research for this book. When reading it, it was hard to put down. She went back and forth between present day and memories, which usually bothers me, but here it didn't. I found that I enjoyed both time periods. Everything was well told and really brought the images to life while reading. It was a very colorful read.
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Was a little leery of the circus theme. Although, it was about the circus, the characters are what really drew me in. Very unlike any book I have ever read and I was really glad I did.
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A very well painted picture you won't soon forget.
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At first, I was skeptical about this book. Mostly because I don't really read stuff about animals, much less circuses. But when I began it, the first chapter opened with the most surprising part of the book that I had no choice other than to keep reading. I finished in a week. The parts where Jacob is an older man were something I found hard to read, because it made me sad but it also pointed out the realism that even the greatest of people grow old and eventually die.
This book was very well written. I loved the secret love story, the trouble Jacob caused, and I even loved Walter and his dog.
I cried a lot, especially when something happened with the animals and especially Rosie.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone, no matter their preferred genre. I'm going out tomorrow to rent the movie so that I can compare them :) *even though most movies never compare to their book counterparts
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Water for Elephants was a wonderful story, enjoyed the book.
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After seeing the movie in the theater earlier this year, I knew I had to read the book. Like usual, I ended up loving the book even more than I love the movie. It was such a quick read and very well written. It surprised me that a lot of the events and characters in the book are based on real events/characters! I'd recommend this book to everyone.
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I ended up liking this book. It was a very slow start. Rosie is a wonderful, sympathetic character and made the book worth sticking with.
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I enjoyed this book, although I did not like the abuse of animals that went on in circuses at this time. However, I had to see the outcome of the story and the characters became very real to me. It is understandable why it has been on the bestseller lists for so long. Highly recommended.
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What a wonderful book, I loved every minute of it & have since passed it along.
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I loved this book. You don't hear much about circuses anymore and it brought back many memories as a little girl of loving to go to the circus. Can't wait to see the movie!
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This was a book that I truly did not think I'd like. Not a big fan of circuses, I just didn't think it would interest me. Boy, was I ever wrong! This book thrust me into its story from the very first page, and left me wanting more. The ending is wonderful â perfect and satisfying. While I am very leary of any book that contains abuse to animals, I found that I could endure the occasional abuses described somehow. I was so completely enthralled by the characters of this book, and could see the whole story in my mind's eye as I read. The author does say in an interview that the elephant, Rosie, was based on a real elephant (two, actually) she discovered when doing the research for this book. I often felt like I needed a shower while reading the book because it is so atmospheric and real that I felt like I'd been riding on the train without a good wash! At the same time, I felt I was a resident of the nursing home depicted in the book and wanted to have a good meal myself. Excellent book, one of the best reads of my adult life. It will definitely stay with me a long time.
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Water for Elephant was a great read! I loved getting to know the characters and places. It takes the fear out of getting old and gives you hope for mankind.
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This was an amazing story!

The author created a beautiful, believable story that was entertaining and touching.
The characters are strong, relate well and are enjoyable as if you met them in real life. And as strong as they are, you just might have!

Bitter-sweet in many ways because of Jacob's loss and the trials he goes through with the circus, and the suffering of others he feels, the sweet moments, the good times, are made that much more so by the struggles.

The amazing ending makes this book one in a million, and has you picking it back up again and again to enjoy the story of Jacob that is just as refreshingly adventurous as the first time you read it.

A must read for anyone!
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I had this book on my bookshelf for awhile and finally decided to read it and I'm so glad that I did! It is so well written and very interesting. I learned alot about the circus that I did not know and the story that revolves around it is awesome! I want to see the movie to compare it to the book. Hope it is as good! You will never go to the circus again without thinking of the characters in this book and their story!
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Great read.
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I thought the book was alright, but it's really not my type of genre. The abuse of people and animals in the book was appalling and really tainted my view of it. I know a lot of people who highly highly recommended it - some of whom it was their favorite book of all time! But it was just alright for me. I'll be interested to see what the movie is like.
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Excellent book! A real education in the life of circus employees (including performers) and animals during the early days of the traveling circus. It was hard to put this book down, and I was sad when it was over, but it had a wonderful ending. I've ordered the movie.
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Very good book - quick read.
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I normally don't select bestsellers for reading pleasure; they so often disappoint. Had my book club not selected this for discussion I probably would not have read it. But I am so glad I did. The book is well written, not just a good story, but excellent writer's craft. Any person over fifty with any empathy at all will identify with the story teller. Younger people will identify with the main characters in the circus story. I am not particularly interested in circus history, but this was fascinating. The ending is especially wonderful...fanciful but wonderful.
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The book shuffled back and forth in time periods of a former vet's life and gave a startling view of life with a circus. The friends that were eventually made and all the hardships they endured were described as if the person reading was there observing.
It ended with a surprise twist. I enjoyed this very interesting book which kept you turning the pages to see what would happen next.
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I really didn't have much of an idea what this book was about, but when i saw the advertisements for the movie I thought I'd like it. It was a little different than I imagined it would be, but overall a very good read. Glimpses of life as a traveling carnival worker/
performer in their heyday. I especially liked the bond between the main characters and the animals - particularly Rosie, the elephant. An interesting, touching, enjoyable read!
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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is one of my all-time favorite books! The story is told by an old man looking back on his life in the circus during the Great Depression. As a young man he joins the circus after his parents died in a car accident. There he discovers a whole new and strange world in the small traveling community. He learns the hard work involved in the back scenes of a circus, as well as the harsh and sometimes tragic lives of the workers. It isn't long before he falls in love with the beautiful Marlena, one of the star performers. Things are complicated though. She's already married to the controlling and cruel head animal trainer.

Get ready to cheer for the hero, boo the villain and ooh and ahhh at the story that draws you into a bygone time and place. It's a memorable book that will stay in your heart a long, long time. Read other book reviews at readinginthegarden.blogspot.com
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The book was great. I was extremely happy that I had read the book before watching the movie. The book really draws you into the story. You feel the characters pains and joys.
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This book was a fascinating read that called to me every time I set it down.
And with three little ones, the phone ringing and the power going out...that was a lot of interruptions!

The story line was well thought out and though provoking, and the characters were amazing! It had me in tears more than once, and getting highly upset a handful of times as well!

This is an amazing book that you just can't pass up!
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This book is a fascinating look at a world most of us never see. It's refreshing in its take on love and regret, and the old man's narration had me alternately laughing to myself and contemplating my own life. Couldn't put it down!
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The movie doesn't hold a candle to the text but did a decent job. Hollywood couldn't possible keep up with the novel's detail to emotional and psychological narrative. The book takes the reader on a train ride with the characters with vivid descriptions and details. Reading the book first made it easy to fill in the gaps not possible in the film version.
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I really enjoyed reading this book.
I am not letting my father in law
read this book b/c he is in his 80's
and I think it would be depressing.
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Loved the book! I never thought I would like reading about the circus but the characters are so vivid and compelling.
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Good story and I think the reader becomes involved in the plot. However, if you do (as I do) care about animal cruelty in this time, I would think about reading this book.
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Really loved this book! An interesting look into the world of the circus. Felt the characters were well-developed and true. Very satisfying ending!
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This book was fantastic. It held my interest from the first page and on. Characters were well defined and cohesive. It has the drama, adventure and excitement needed to keep you turning the pages. I would highly recommend this book.

Best yet, thank you paperbackswap for the member who sent this book, condition was very good of book and fast shipping. Best yet book was free from swapping my book to receiving this book.
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This book kept my interest from beginning to end. A wonderful story!!
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This was an excellent book! I bought this for the Kindle and could not put it down. It started off a little slow, but once it picked up I got hooked. I can't wait for this movie to come out, but I just hope that the movie stays along the lines of the novel.
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Amazing - Captivating! Will capture you right from the very beginning... I am a very particular reader and it is very few books that bring me to turn one page after another. This was a gripping story, that truly made me feel as though I was right there with Jacob and Marlena. Sharing a piece of the story, seeing what the good ole days in the circus were like... I HIGHLY recommend!!
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I saw the preview for the movie, and while it didn't particularly make me want to watch the movie, it did make me want to read the book. I'm glad I did.
While the story can at times be overly dramatic and sentimental, it's also the sort of book that makes me stay up way too late at night, ignoring everything around me so that I can finish it. That's never a bad thing!
A veterinary student, struck by personal tragedy, ends up in a traveling circus, where he finds a rougher life than he had dreamed existed, full of violence, insanity - and, surprisingly, true friendship and love.
Gruen really did her research on the traveling shows of the 1930's, and it shows. I found it wholly convincing - although sometimes it does seem like she shoved every exciting thing that ever happened or might have happened at a circus into her book like clowns into a clown car... but overall, it works.
I even liked the sections of the framing device, where Our Protagonist is an old man in a nursing home, struggling to maintain his dignity and remembering the years of his youth. Surprisingly, they're nearly as gripping as the more action-packed scenes set in the past. And the ending, while a bit of a fantasy, is truly heartwarming.
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I loved this book! I almost did not read it because I wasn't re it was for me but I am do glad I did. I got caught up in the story and could not put it down.
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I couldn't put it down! Be aware that though the film is rated PG13, this book is rated R. I'd read it first before allowing your teen to!
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I loved this book! I highly encourage anyone who appreciates growing old and the memories you carry with you on your journey to mark this as your next selection. It grabs you from the start and continues until the end...truly one of my favorites.
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This was a great book. I liked the historical nature of it. My emotions were gripped with the characters.
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WOW! that basically explains this whole book..I was completely drawn into this story through out the entire book...I highly recommend this book to those who like happy endings :)
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Very interesting story from a first person perspective with two time references: first being a young man in a traveling circus in the early 1920-1930's, second being present time of an "90-something" year old man in a nursing home telling his story. As a nurse, I was in tears more times than I wanted to be, hearing from a elderly man's point-of-view of how useless and pride-less he feels living in a nursing home. I have encouraged all of my fellow co-workers to read it simply to remind health care providers that everyone we take care of has a story and are still important.
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This book was amazing! I was pulled into the story right away. I found it funny, moving, exciting, and original. It is a definite must-read.
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I had this book on my to read list for some time, when I saw that the movie was coming out soon I decided I better get to reading this. I listened to this as an audio book and it was very well done; they have two readers one for Jacob in his twenties and one for Jacob in his nineties. It was a good read and I enjoyed learning about the circus.

Jacob is ninety three and living in a retirement home, through his dreams and daydreams he relives a tumultuous time in his life in his twenties. When Jacob is in his twenties he is getting ready to sit for his Veterinarian finals at Cornell University when he gets a call; his parents have been killed in a car accident. Then when he gets home he finds out that the bank has seized his parents' house. In a fit of grief and sorrow he abandons his exams and hops a train that just happens to be part of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Through a series of circumstances he ends up working for them as their vet; taking care of the exotic animals in their menagerie. In the process of all of this he falls in love with a beautiful performer named Marlena who has a brutally viscous husband, who also happens to be Jacob's boss.

There were a number of things I liked about this book. The story moves quickly and has a sense of mystery and doom about it as Jacob falls deeper into the seedy goings on in the circus and deeper in love with Marlena. It is very engaging.

It is clever how you see into Jacob's life in the present while he is in a nursing home. These portions of the story really tug at your heart and give insight into an old man struggling to retain his sense of self in an environment where everything is sanitized and ordered. These glimpses are bittersweet in contrast to the crazy life Jacob lived; obviously this man has lived and lived well and it is heartbreaking to watch him struggle with the descent into age that we are all faced with.

The majority of the story is about Jacob's life in the circus. Gruen doesn't shy away from the nitty gritty including sex, violence, language; as such this is definitely an adult read. Issues such as animal cruelty, squalid living conditions for workers, and the Depression are woven throughout. Making the story very believable and easy to relate to.

All of the characters in this book are very human and engaging and have a lot of depth. Even the villainous characters (Al and August) have moments of graciousness and goodness. While the main "good" characters do things that border on bad, if only through neglect.

The only thing that really bothered me with this book is that I thought Jacob made too many bad decisions and too many mistakes. I understood that he was young and hot-headed, but at the same time he is supposed to be very smart...and well...let's just say he doesn't spend much time thinking about his actions. A lot of what happened he brought on himself and I think that this was inconsistent with the way he was presented as an upstanding citizen and character.

The book ends well and should leave readers happy and smiling. The story is expertly told and the look into the way a circus runs fascinating. It would have been nice to have an afterward of Gruen talking about how accurately she represented the circus in this book. Were all circuses like this? Or was this one particularly bad?

Overall this was a very engaging story, I enjoyed it a lot, and am happy that I read it. The characters are fascinating, the glimpses into both life in the circus and life in a nursing home intriguing as well. I loved how the book was set up with us seeing the elder Jacob's memories/story through his eyes. Definitely a book to check out if you are at all interested in circuses or people living during the Depression Era.
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i really loved this book.its about a circus romance kind of thing and it was great
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While the book wasn't horrible, I don't see what all the fuss is about. The heroine of the story is flat and not all that interesting. Certainly, I don't see why the hero would be all that interested in her. The villain is also one dimensional. My favorite character is the elephant. She redeemed the story for me.
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Great book, can't wait for the movie!
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This is a wonderful book! You feel like you actually know the characters. I couldn't put this book down. The plot really involves you and you just have to keep reading to see what happens next. Water for Elephants will take you through many emotions with a much deserved ending. I truely hope the movie does it justice!!
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Hands down loved this book! Very excited to see the movie coming out April 22..I loved how the author wrote the book,and portrayed the lifestyle of the era! I just can't say enough about this book!
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This book ended up being one of my favorite reads of 2010. There was a point in the book where I thought I couldn't read any more about circus animals, i'm not really a big animal person, so I found the animal details mundane. But the story itself is a wonderful tale of an old mans reflection about a crazy experience in his life. It helps you remember to really appreciate all our adventures in life, as our memories are what we are left with in old age. Love it!
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Loved this story. Recommend for anyone who enjoys the era or circus fiction.
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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen tells the story of Jacob Jankowski, and almost-veterinarian whose life has just fallen apart. As he comes to this realization, Jacob stumbles upon the Benzini Brother's Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus train and hops aboard. He quickly secures his place on the show as the menagerie vet, a position that will change his life forever.

Sara Gruen weaves an incredibly realistic tale that allows the reader a rare glimpse into the prohibition era circus lifestyle. The amount of tension throughout the book is always palatable. I often found myself clenching my jaw and holding my breath by the end of a chapter. August is a particularly well-developed character, frightening in the most realistic and entirely plausible way. There is a sense of impending destruction and collapse that builds with each paragraph.

This tension is gracefully relieved every few chapters by visiting Jacob, age ninety (or ninety-three), in his current state as a resident at an assisted living facility. Through the telling of Jacob's present story, the reader reaches another level of understanding and can comprehend the meaning of Jacob's earlier experiences in entirely new ways. The tale would be much less satisfying without this continuation of the story, however small it may seem.

An issue that must be addressed when talking about Water for Elephants is the treatment of animals. Some scenes in the book are very difficult to read, but it's worth reading through. You will fall in love with so many of the animals as though they're human, and you will be satisfied with their redemption.

For me, Water for Elephants receives 5/5 stars. I consider it a "must read" that will forever change the way you think. It's the type of story that won't soon leave your mind.
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AMAZING AND BEAUTIFUL.....This book earned five stars from me, a very rare and hard earned status, very few books have managed. Where do I start? I was captured from the very first page and sucked into a world that I had never encountered before, that SG writes so eloquently that you feel as if you really are amoung the all those sights and sounds that make up a circus. This is not my usual genre of books but, I happened upon a trailer of the upcoming movie and it looked so good I had to read the book (which I had heard great things about but just hadn't thought about reading).
This book made my heart clench with fear, saddness, love and friendship. It is at it's core a love story but, the love is in so many different forms. There is a love of family so profound that it drives a man away from his life, a love of friendship so unlikely that it spans generations and social backgrounds, a love of animals so beautiful it transends species, and love between two people so magnetic its impossible to ignore despite all consequences.
I was moved to tears in many sections of the book particuarly the portions of "old" Jacob. SG writes so convincingly of an old mans spirit. The transition is time is seamless, I wouldn't realize imediately that we were out of the flashback and into the present. I love that the story was told that way.
I finished the book and immediatly began reading it again and will re-read again before the movie...AWESOME! I can't imagine anyone would not on some level enjoy this book, I believe most readers will be forever moved by it...I know I will be.
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Awesome, can't wait for the movie!
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This book was not something I would normally read. Once I started reading I couldn't put it down. Learning the details of the circus and how things were done back then was really interesting to me. Most of all I, of course, LOVED the LOVE STORY that brews throughout the entire book!!! A MUST READ!!!
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Good read; I couldn't put it down! Very well written and facinating subject of circus life during the US depression. ASC
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Much to do about this book. I enjoyed the scenery. The characters were interesting. Too many questions un answered for me.
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A nice book, slow to start, but gets better and a satisfying ending.
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Wonderful story, well written and an all around great read.
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I loved this book, it grabbed me from the first page and never let me down. Very seldom I read a book that I enjoy so much.
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I normally dont enjoy historical fiction. This was an exception for me. I loved it! Beautifully written.
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I enjoyed the book.
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The setting for this book was probably what caught my eye - the traveling circus. Gruen kept me wondering about each character and their place in the story and how it would finally play out from beginning to end. I liked this story a lot and would recommend it.
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Totally enjoyed this book. It was an easy read that is beautifully written. I enjoyed the way the author portrayed the time period in such lush detail. Haven't seen the movie- always read the book first!
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I love this book! There is a very good reason why this is a best seller. I didn't expect to enjoy a book about the circus, but I did.

Maybe it was the historical aspectit is set during the depression as well as the presentwhich Sara Gruen brings to life. Maybe it was the beautiful way she writes. Maybe it was some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of the circus. Or maybe it was the way it went back & forth between the old man in the nursing home and his story of his younger years when he ran away to join the circus. Maybe it was Rosie the elephant who touched my heart. Maybe it was the love story. Maybe it was because it is an excellent book.

Whatever the reason, it has become one of my fav books.
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Keeps your attention all the way until the end. I hope the movie does it justice.
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This story feels magical, while containing its fair share of hard-hitting reality. Its a depression era story of a lost soul joining a traveling, American circus. It reads like a memoir of the storys main character, Jacob. The story begins in a modern day setting, where you meet Jacob as an elderly man, living in a retirement home.

A circus is setting up just across the street from Jacobs retirement home, and the whole place is buzzing about it. It brings back Jacobs memories of his time traveling around the country with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. As a young man, he worked as their veterinarian.

Jacobs relationships with the animals in the circus, as well as the crew members and performers are my favorite aspects of this novel. The author reveals that many of the most entertaining stories and plot twists concerning the animals were based on real occurrences. The author really did her homework, and it shows. The story line is endearing and entertaining.
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This book would get 6 stars from me if it did not include some pornographic scenes. The book was amazing! Very well written, she is a master story teller. And if you do not have my convictions about what is proper. I became interested in reading the book when my son had this book on the suggested reading list for 10th grade, I had heard rumors that there where some scenes in it that involved sex. Yikes! Not for kids. But still a great book if the bad parts are avoided.
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I really enjoyed this book. It was well written, and had a different story line, since it takes place during the Depression and involves circus life. The main character, Jacob Jankowski, was very likeable.

I'm not sure about starting the story at the end (if you read, you'll understand) and I think that was a technique that was unnecessary and did not add anything ot the narrative for me.

I did enjoy the use of the point of view of Jacob when he is old and looking back on it all.

Highly recommended book. Great story, author with a wonderful voice, I was sucked in from the get go.
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Ehhh...read the book because it was made into a movie. I didn't watch the movie first because I love to read the books before getting the movie characters in my head.

So...I guess based on the reviews I've read already, I'm probably one of the few who could hardly get past the sexual details, and obscene language.

The plot was still good. It kept me interested with the flipping from the future to the past.

But if you can't stand obscene language...and especially can't stand graphic sex scenes...I suggest you pass on this one.

Definitely NOT for adolescents or junior lit readers...
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Great read. I saw the movie first and was inspired to read the book. The movie followed the book very well which doesn't always happen. I would recommend this book.
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I loved loved loved this book! It was well written, the story was beautifully told, and the characters were very real. I felt so much compassion for Jacob as he found his life falling apart. Everything flowed so well and I couldn't put it down until the very end, which by the way, was perfect.
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one of the best books ever. an awesome account of life on the road with a 1930s circus. It's written from a male perspective by a female author. She does a wonderful job. And, it does have a happy ending. I have a hard time reading any book with animals in it, but this one was all around beautiful. A must-read for guys and girls too.
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For the most part, I loved this book! The old circus days were due for a comeback. Water for Elephants had everything from romance and mystery to comedy, as well. A few things were left unclear at the end, but I couldn't put it down while reading and I will definitely read it again someday!
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A really enjoyable read. Well worth reading for an old fashioned love story. Any violence toward people or animals isn't explicit.
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Very interesting book! Hard to put down. I read it in 2 days.
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An entertaining read that contains both humor and tragedy. It is an insight into not only the circus life but human behavior as told in a very interesting manner.
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Very well put together story, but it was a little rough for me, as an animal lover, to read. Be prepared for gritty treatment of animals and people, but the story is well worth the read.
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This book was well-written, but I wish I hadn't wasted my time on it. I've never liked circuses, but read it because of all the hype. It sure reinforced my childhood impressions of desperate people and poorly-treated animals. I have certainly kept thinking about it since I finished it, and unfortunately what sticks with me are the instances of cruelty to both animals and people.
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I absolutely loved this book! I didn't want to put it down. I loved the characters. These characters made reading about the hardships of the circus in the 20s entertaining. I couldn't put it down!
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very good book, surprising ending.
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Wow-could not put this book down!
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When I saw what the book was about I was pretty sure I was not going to like it but from the first chapter I was hooked. I very rarely find a book i like so well I reread it a second time. I enjoyed this one so much that I read it and then immediately started it over to relive this story. It really pulls you in and is an excellent story.
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one of the best books I've read recently!
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An excellent book. A fairly quick read. I loved the whole twisted circus theme. It was very gritty and dark. If you like that sort of thing, then you will definitely enjoy this book.
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Really liked the book. I really liked the characters and the ending was great!
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I'm still working out how I feel about this book. It was so well written, goes seamlessly between the past and the present. The love story (was it between he and Marlena or he and Rosie?) was lyrically written. The author did an amazing job of pulling me back and forth between the two. I even shed a few tears over a few different things. I'm not an animal activist, but certain parts of this book made me very uncomfortable. The history of the circus is pretty well known. We know the animals were mistreated (heck, they are today too), but the author writes so well about this subject that I found it hard to swallow that lump in my throat. It's obvious she did some major research into the subject matter.

When I originally read the description for this book, it was on my "skip it" list, but a few of my friends read it and told me I "had" to read it. I'm so glad they did. This was a beautiful book and definitely in my top 10 for the year.
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I didn't really see what all the hoopla was about this book. It was a good read but not fantastic. I enjoyed the characters and the story. Working for the circus was an interesting topic.
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The author did some heavy research for this book. I love it. Goes back and forth between a nursing home and life in the circus. Jacob's parents are killed in an accident a week before he graduates vet school. The bank ends up with the family home and its furnishings as his father, also a vet, had been taking payment in chickens and potatoes and had taken out a loan to keep Jacob in college. He ends up walking out of his final exam and hopping a train, which ends up being a circus train. He goes to work for them where he befriends a midgit, a monkey, and an elephant, and falls in love with a (married) equestrian. Great story!
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This is a really good story. I don't even like the circus but I liked this book.
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I really enjoyed this book because it was not your usual fare. It was easy to relate to the main character, Jacob. I had a hard time putting the book down. It was a different kind of story about a different time.
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Interesting and sad at times but well written
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Oh my goodness, I was concerned that I would be disappointed after all the hype! But was NOT.. Fantastic book.. Enjoyed it very much. Highly recommend this one to all.
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loved the circus background, loved the menagerie. would liked have learned more about that period of circus history. The transition from past to present was done very well. Just wasn't too interested in the "romantic" aspects. a good read, but I don't need to read it again.
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This is my all time favorite book and I've recommended it to everyone I know. There is a few parts with animal abuse in the book, but knowing that it's not a true story made it okay to read. Otherwise, it was a fantastic read and I couldn't put it down.
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This book was one of the best i have ever written! Once i started, couldnt set it down.
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I hate to say this since everyone else obviously felt differently from me, but I wasn't all that thrilled with this book. It was interesting, but there was so much hype that I really expected more.
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One of the best books I have read this year. Great story as all of Sara Guren books. Love this author. Read it in two days. Loved it.
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A charming fictional accounting of a 93 year old man's reflections of his young life with a circus,laced with his daily feelings about nursing home life, and the loss of his physical well being.
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This is not normally a book I'd pick up but a friend recommended it and I'm glad she did. Its all about the old time train circuses and the subculture that existed within them. I'm not a fan of circuses, in fact I've never been to one, but I love learning about unfamiliar cultures and I was surprised by how interesting it was. Gruen did extensive research on the subject and a lot of characters and events in the plot are true.
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I have to admit I seldom don't finish a book but I quit at page 155. I found the whole thing terribly depressing & not worth continuing.

Not "delightful" or "sheer fun" as in some reviews.
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this is on my list of top three books!
It is so much more than any description could be.
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I was worried that despite the high praise, it wouldn't be a story I'd enjoy. Thankfully, I was wrong. It was very enjoyable. I liked the way the story was narrated. The actual timeframe of the story was less than 24 hours. I loved that part of the story, especially the resolution. The main part of the story was quite fascinating in the way it wove a story of early circus life. It's not a pretty picture behind the scenes by any means. That story took place over 4 months time, but the 2 stories were wonderfully interwoven.
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I can't say enough good things about this book. I adored it and it's one that will stay on my shelf for future reading. I laughed, I cried, I couldn't put it down. There are parts that are disturbing if you're an animal lover, things that make you cringe and shake your head... But alls well that ends well and this book does. Loved the main character and the way his story was told. Even the cover, which is what caught my eye in the bookstore.
Like I said, I can't say enough. Read this book.
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Outstanding. The vivid descriptions made me feel like I was watching the story instead of reading it.
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This is a great book. Nice read. Had trouble putting it down.
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Extraordinary, captivating book about a traveling circus during the Great Depression. Kept me guessing right up until the very end.
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I asked for this book because of my liking for elephants. The elephant appeared unexpectedly in the story, which kept me guessing. The book was more raw than I expected, but endearing because it parallel's an old man's memories & the account of his life. I'd probably read it again.
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This was one of the best books I've read. Highly recommend it. The author does a good job of creating interesting and colorful characters.
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This is the best book I have read in ages. It was suspensful, tragic, funny, poignant and like a time capsule of the depression. I absolutely loved it, and will read it again sometime later. I loved the story of the main male character and how he aged during the story. The ending was absolutely wonderful and brought tears to my eyes.

Genny Sikes
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This was such an engrossing book. You are hooked from the very beginning. I am still thinking about the characters.
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I really enjoyed this book. The comparisons of Jacob's life in the circus and his life in nursing home are interesting.
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I absolutely loved this book!! As a social worker who works with geriactric families. The book was a wonderful reminder of how a geriactric patient may feel and their life's history. The story was captivating and well written.
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Excellent book with something in it for everyone. I was pleasantly surprised.
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I really liked this book. I enjoyed the characters and the circus setting. Interesting info on what the circus was like back in those days.
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The life of the circus and the roles each member played was fascinating.
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I absolutely adored this book. Well written, and even though I read it a while ago, the plot still lingers in my mind. wonderful read. highly reccomended.
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This is an excellent book about a subject that is not frequently written about. Engrossing, be prepared to get absorbed!
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A very touching story.
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It was a good read. Kept my attention. Wasn't fond of the way it ended though. Looking forward to see how they portray this in a movie.
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Great story, well told.
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Excellent book, not only a great story, but historically correct of how the circus existed during that era.
I recommend this read to all.
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I didn't think I would like this book about an old man recounting his days in the carnival, but it turned out to be wonderful! I read it in one day!
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good stuff -- read it for book club. story of a 90 year old man's time in the circus when he was a young man in the 30's.
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Fantastic read. Fiction lovers this is a great one!
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This is such a great story- it reads like the character is telling you the story in person. LOVED IT
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What a wonderful story. This is one of the best books I've read. I fell in love with Rosie the elephant!
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I immediately fell in love with the 90 (or 93) year-old narrator and protagonist of this story. His memories of his time with the circus and his love for one of the performers were detailed and fascinating. The research of Sara Gruen was apparent. I was engrossed in the history and the characters. Some of it was very dark but that was offset by the antics of the animals and the strong backbone of the characters. The author pulled no punches, but instead opened a window on a world that most of us have never even imagined.
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Loved this book! A great, unique story that I think women and men alike will enjoy. Beautifully written and very detailed - I could easily imagine the sights and sounds of the circus and what went on behind-the-scenes.
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absolutely loved it
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This was a fun, easy read.
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I finished this book days ago, it only took me a day and a half to read, but I wanted to take my time on the review (a cat tried to force me to write it earlier dont ask) so here goes.
Water for Elephants is soon to be a major motion picture, and I have the complex that even though I know it will make the movie not as good I MUST read all books before I see the movie that is based on it. This one has been in my to read pile in all honesty since it came out in 2008, I can now officially say I regret it sitting in my pile that long unread. This book is perhaps one of the best books I have read. It is the best of 2011, sure I havent read a ton yet this year but I do not see its spot changing too much.
The writing style is excellent I love how it flips back and forth between old a Jacob and Young Jacob. Old Jacob really is what you picture as the typical crotchety old man, the one you know is on the porch shaking his cane saying Dang Kids get off my lawn!, but somehow you just cant be mad at him for it. Especially when you see how la his family is with him. Young Jacob is a good kid, he makes mistakes but he earnestly wants to do right by people and he is a spitfire about it.
This book is a MUST read, and I do mean must. For seeing how circuses worked on the inside in the great depression. If the movie manages to get even half the depth of story and character that the book does it will be fantastic. At its core Water for Elephants is a love story, but its a life story as much as anything with love just happening as it does in the natural course of life. Good writing, good story, history and love what else can you ask for in a novel
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A good read...I liked the way the story went back and forth from the time the main character was in his youth and old age.
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When a book gets a lot of attention, sometimes I'll resist reading it. I'm glad I went ahead and got this one. I loved it! I really didn't think I'd like it due to the circus storyline, but I couldn't put it down and I find myself still thinking about this wonderful story. Parts of it made me sad to the point of having to remind myself it was fiction, but overall, I just loved this book!!
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Awesome, creative, historical fiction based on circa 1919 traveling circus. I passed this on to both elderly parents and 20-something daughter who loved it. I was so enthralled by the personality of the elephants, that I went on to do further research into their intelligence.
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I liked this book. The characters were realistic and and their interactions with the animals was believable. The historical perspective was interesting.
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I really wanted to enjoy this book because of all the hype it got ... but it was just too depressing for me! I finished it, but it was definitely a struggle.

Don't get me wrong, Sara Gruen is a fantastic writer! The book makes you feel like you're back in the Great Depression experiencing everything they did. I LOVED the whole idea of running away and joining the circus.

I expected the book to focus more on the romance and I think that's where I was dissapointed! For me, I didn't feel that the two main characters had any chemistry.

The way the story was progressing, I expected a predictable and melancholy end to the book ... but I was wrong. The ending was the best part of the book for me!

So it was a little too sad for my taste (and I definitely didn't like the animal abuse), but I don't regret reading it!
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What a great book! I thought this was a touching story of a lost young man who finds his way in life. First time I read this author, and I will read more of her books.