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Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski's ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out—orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive "ship of fools." It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn't have an act—in fact, she couldn't even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Surprising, poignant, and funny, Water for Elephants is that rare novel with a story so engrossing, one is reluctant to put it down; with characters so engaging, they continue to live long after the last page has been turned; with a world built of wonder, a world so real, one starts to breathe its air.

Topics: Love, Grief, United States of America, Romantic, Heartfelt, Nostalgic, Suspenseful, Adventurous, Mental Illness, Made into a Movie, Murder, Orphans, Abuse, Animals, Friendship, Animal Rights, First Love, Love Triangle, Elephants, Circus, First Person Narration, and 21st Century

Published: Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9781565125858
List price: $1.99
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This is one of the better books I've read of late! I thought it was a well-written story, though sometimes I was still with the circus when the next chapter flashed forwarded to the nursing home setting; sometimes it took me a couple of paragraphs to shift gears.

The tale of Depression-era circus life depicted here was interesting and sad. (Sometimes I had to put the book down for a day or so.) I loved the irony of young Jacob Jankowski's hopping a train that just happened to be a circus train. Instead of escaping, he got sucked into the circus drama that stretched him more than his vet school final exams would have. I smiled through the last couple of chapters, as the 93-year-old Jankowski escaped back to the circus, intentionally this time. Charming ending!more
Sentimental tripe with cardboard characters, poorly written. Clearly the author did a lot of research into circuses of the era, and possibly if it she had stuck to a non-fiction essay it would have been better. Perhaps her editor convinced her to pad it out into a bookgroup-popular book.more
Good characters and story line for the most part. There is the usual romance of the newbie falling for the mean boss' wife, but other than that it was a good look into the otherworld of the circus of the past. I thought there was going to more to the main character's relationship to the elephant, but all-in-all it was an enjoyable book.more
Underwhelming, overall, but not bad. A simple, pleasurable story about a traveling circus during the great depression. It was a little too sentimental and pat for my tastes, but I think it's a good sell for a wide audience of readers (from teens to both sporadic and voracious readers). I liked the author's use of archival photographs from the Ringling Brothers' museum at the beginning of each chapter, but I wish she would have provided captions, so that they were not so precariously linked to the action in the story...
I think the HBO show Carnivale (which,sadly,lasted two seasons)is a much better circus story, about the same era. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is also a truly magnificent and twisted novel about a traveling freak show.more
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Reviews

This is one of the better books I've read of late! I thought it was a well-written story, though sometimes I was still with the circus when the next chapter flashed forwarded to the nursing home setting; sometimes it took me a couple of paragraphs to shift gears.

The tale of Depression-era circus life depicted here was interesting and sad. (Sometimes I had to put the book down for a day or so.) I loved the irony of young Jacob Jankowski's hopping a train that just happened to be a circus train. Instead of escaping, he got sucked into the circus drama that stretched him more than his vet school final exams would have. I smiled through the last couple of chapters, as the 93-year-old Jankowski escaped back to the circus, intentionally this time. Charming ending!more
Sentimental tripe with cardboard characters, poorly written. Clearly the author did a lot of research into circuses of the era, and possibly if it she had stuck to a non-fiction essay it would have been better. Perhaps her editor convinced her to pad it out into a bookgroup-popular book.more
Good characters and story line for the most part. There is the usual romance of the newbie falling for the mean boss' wife, but other than that it was a good look into the otherworld of the circus of the past. I thought there was going to more to the main character's relationship to the elephant, but all-in-all it was an enjoyable book.more
Underwhelming, overall, but not bad. A simple, pleasurable story about a traveling circus during the great depression. It was a little too sentimental and pat for my tastes, but I think it's a good sell for a wide audience of readers (from teens to both sporadic and voracious readers). I liked the author's use of archival photographs from the Ringling Brothers' museum at the beginning of each chapter, but I wish she would have provided captions, so that they were not so precariously linked to the action in the story...
I think the HBO show Carnivale (which,sadly,lasted two seasons)is a much better circus story, about the same era. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is also a truly magnificent and twisted novel about a traveling freak show.more
Wonderfully written! I loved the characters and the story was told in a way to feel so real.more
If you're a fan of Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, I think you will really enjoy this book. While it is a much darker tale than The Notebook, the characters, manner in which the story was told, and the obstacles facing Marlena and Jacob reminded me a lot of The Notebook.

The story was wonderful, and while I've never been part of a circus, this is how I imagine a low budget circus during the depression might run. I think spectators see circuses and their vision is clouded by all the amazing sights they're seeing; with this book, readers were able to see all the terrible things that actually happen behind the scenes. While Jacob and Marlena's love was an interesting part of the story, I was honestly more enthralled by all the awful things that were happening to Jacob, the workers and performers, and the animals, especially poor Rosie. The villains, Uncle Al and August were terrible. I think they were as close to life as you can get to a real villain without making them sound like they were part of some superhero comic book so I applaud Sara Gruen for that.

I was also very interested in Jacob's life at the nursing home. I felt his frustration at not being treated like a grown man. My only concern with Jacob's story is that I am still left pondering whether or not it was true. When we meet Jacob in the first few chapters it seems like he has his wits about him. But later, it's pretty obvious that Jacob is losing or has already lost his mind. It's not clear if it's just dementia or old age. The nurse, Rosemary, points out to Jacob that a lot of the people he's living around remember things that aren't necessarily true. So, it leaves the reader to wonder whether or night Jacob's memories might be false. I am choosing to believe that Jacob's story is true, but one can't help but wonder, and I'm curious about what other's think.more
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