Winner of the 2007 BookBrowse Diamond Award for Most Popular Book.
An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.
The New York Times - Elizabeth Judd
Circuses showcase human beings at their silliest and most sublime, and many unlikely literary figures have been drawn to their glitzy pageantry, soaring pretensions and metaphorical potential. Unsurprisingly, writers seem liberated by imagining a spectacle where no comparison ever seems inflated, no development impossible. For better and for worse, Gruen has fallen under the spell. With a showman's expert timing, she saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale.
The leisurely recreation of the circus's daily routine is lovely and mesmerizing, even if readers have visited this world already in fiction and film, but the plot gradually bogs down in melodrama.
Booklist - Marta Segal
The ending of both stories is a little too cheerful to be believed, but...the magic of the story and the writing convince you to suspend your disbelief.
Despite her often cliche'd prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book.
Old-fashioned and endearing, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced story.
Jeanne Ray, author of Julie and Romeo
So much more than a tale about a circus, Water for Elephants is a compelling journey not only under the big top, but into the protagonist's heart. Sara Gruen uses her talent as a writer to bring that world alive for the reader: I could smell it, taste it, feel every word of it. This is a fiction reader's dream come true.
Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
The circus, the Great Depression, a complex elephant, equally complex love, the mists and twists of memory articulated in the utterly winning voice of a very old man who's seen it all: these are the irresistible elements of Water for Elephants. Sara Gruen has written an utterly transporting novel richly full of the stuff of life.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by jsanders16 Fantastic Great for adults, some material not recommended for people under 16. Great way to capture the essence of the great depression.
Rated of 5
by Mabel :) The Help I can't wait for the movie to come out! The way that the author uses the old-timey dialogue is PERFECT for this book! It helps you understand where the characters are coming from.
Rated of 5
by amanda Water For Elephants This is my favorite book, I love the characters!:)
Rated of 5
by mary water for elephants The book was enlightening. I can hardly wait for the movie. I think Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will pair up just fine for this movie
Rated of 5
by Heather Awesome Book & Not at All Too Graphic For anyone who thinks this amazing book is too graphic, you must have been under a rock for many, many years. There are certainly graphic descriptions, however, none are that offensive. Sex & violence are a part of life...it's time people just... Read More
Rated of 5
by kelly water for elephants By far the best book I have read in a long time..One I will keep and re-read often..Can't wait for the movie!
Sara Gruen's first novel, Riding Lessons, was published in 2004. She is
an animal lover who lives with her husband, three children, five cats, two
goats, a dog, and a horse in an environmental community north of Chicago. She
says that she was a day away from starting a different book when she saw an
article in the Chicago Tribune about a photographer who documented train
circuses during the 1920s and 1930s - she was immediately hooked. Within
weeks she'd tracked down many out of print books on the subject and spent days
at the Ringling Circus Museum.
Her research took a full year, and many of the more extraordinary scenes in the
book are based on fact or anecdote (as Gruen points out the distinction between
the two in circus history is famously blurred!)
In addition to the glamorous aspects of circus life, Gruen also shows many of
the harsh realities of life during the depression, such as Jamaica ginger
paralysis which crippled approximately 100,000 Americans in 1930 and 1931, but
is virtually forgotten today as the people effected...
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