Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

Book - 2006
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The runaway international bestseller and beloved fiction classic

Orphaned and penniless at the height of the Depression, Jacob Jankowski escapes everything he knows by jumping on a passing train-and inadvertently runs away with the circus. So begins Water for Elephants , Sara Gruen's darkly beautiful tale about the characters who inhabit the less-than-greatest show on earth.

Jacob finds a place tending the circus animals, including a seemingly untrainable elephant named Rosie. He also comes to know Marlena, the star of the equestrian act-and wife of August, a charismatic but cruel animal trainer. Caught between his love for Marlena and his need to belong in the crazy family of travelling performers, Jacob is freed only by a murderous secret that will bring the big top down.

Water for Elephants is an enchanting page-turner, the kind of book that creates a world that engulfs you from the first page to the last.

Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins, 2006
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781443444897
Branch Call Number: FIC
Characteristics: 335 p. ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

A bestselling page-turner about a young man who runs away to join the circus during the Great Depression.

Like Alison Pick, Canadian author, Sara Gruen writes moving, compelling, and character-driven historical and literary fiction. This novel is told from the perspective of Jacob Jankowski as he reflects on his youth when he impulsively hopped aboard a train to join the circus during the Great Depre... Read More »

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 a... Read More »

A fan of Kingsolver will like Sara Gruen. Both writers feature animals in their works, and plot lines are bittersweet and thought-provoking.

From the critics

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Aug 04, 2018

This story is beautifully written about an elderly man in his 90's living in a care home. It portrays how Jacob, the 92 yr old feels being all alone in this world after his parents died during the Depression years . His vivid imagination takes him to the days of being a circus vet and jumps on a moving train. He meets a group of rough looking guys who decide to let him stay on the train and finds out it is a circus train . Jacob ends up meeting the circus trainer and his wife and later falls in love with her.

I also loved the transition to his real life and how the care aids really looked after him despite his negative attitude. Brilliant!

Apr 09, 2018

June 2016
Jacob is a 90 or 93 years old man who is in a nursing home. A circus sets up close to the home, and Jacob thinks about his life as a vet in a circus, where her met his wife. My favorite scenes are of him as he is now. Ms. Gruen does an excellent job describing what it might be like to be 90, alone, and losing all you know, even yourself.

Oct 06, 2017

Couldn't get into the audiobook. The reader's voice was very dry.

ArapahoeKayla Jul 28, 2017

You enter along with the main character Jacob into the mysterious world of this historical circus world as he uses his veterinarian background to hitch a ride aboard. A narration that switches from past to present this story definitely has plenty of suspense, action, a great cast of characters and romance.

ArapahoeTatyana May 25, 2017

23-year-old Jacob Jankowski is preparing for his final exams as a Cornell University veterinary student when he receives the devastating news that his parents died in a car accident. Their home has been mortgaged to pay for his tuition. Orphaned and penniless he jumps a circus train, which belongs to the Benzini Brothers. He meets different people: brutal and kind, abusive and charming. Sara Gruen says that the backbone of her story is connected with Jacob in the Book of genesis. the name is related to the Hebrew word for "heel".
This deeply psychological novel reveals the glamorous and dark world of the famous circus in the time of Depression. The readers can compare the book with a film adaptation.

May 16, 2017

A beautifully written story of a particular subculture of people we don't often read about. To me the joy of this book was the depth of the characters, and not entirely the plot (which is at times weak). I think this is the reason the movie version just didn't work as well.

May 15, 2017

An engrossing quick read, bringing to life a unique and long gone setting, the gritty, exploitative world of the 1930s circus train. The development of the characters is uneven, the two protagonists (Jacob and Rosie) being well drawn and highly sympathetic while all the others (including Marlena) were left as one-dimensional cut-outs. A strong 3 1/2 stars.

Apr 19, 2017

[audiobook] The story is good - economical, colorful, largely unchallenging. Airport fare. "Old" Jacob is narrated well, and I want to hear more from him. "Young" Jacob was, unfortunately, intolerable after about 3 hours. They guy has a great voice and excellent diction, but he falls into a too-rhythmic newsreader cadence. There's the sort of over-intimate smirky tone someone might adopt as he wraps his arm drunkenly around your neck and gently shakes you, EMphasizing various WORRRDs withOUT any parTICular sssensiTIVity as he TRIES to DRAW you INTO the hiLARious and TERRifying ssssTORY of his MISadventures.

Too much. Had to drop it. I'd like to know what happens with the elephant, but maybe I'll get the ebook or look it up on Goodreads.

Aug 29, 2016


kisanet18 Aug 11, 2016

Such a whimsical and fascinating novel. Some of the violence involving circus animals was a little upsetting but overall, I enjoyed reading about Jacob's story!

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ArapahoeCheryl Dec 22, 2016

ArapahoeCheryl thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Oct 19, 2015

pitchula thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 14 and 99

Jun 03, 2013

rachelhoback thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 13 and 56

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friendlyfaceca thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

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violet_ant_88 thinks this title is suitable for 11 years and over

Mar 04, 2012

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Jan 06, 2012

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Jun 03, 2013

Coarse Language: profanity is largely used

Jun 03, 2013

Sexual Content: alot of sexual content,

Jun 03, 2013

Violence: fighting, blood, nothing too bad but may be frightening to young people

Feb 10, 2011

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.

Feb 10, 2011

Coarse Language: This title contains Coarse Language.

Feb 01, 2011

Sexual Content: This title contains Sexual Content.

Feb 01, 2011

Coarse Language: This title contains Coarse Language.

Feb 01, 2011

Violence: This title contains Violence.


Add a Summary

Jan 06, 2012

Jacob Jankowski is just a normal, young adult that is studying at college to become a vet. However, everything changes when both his parents died. Homeless and without any money, Jacob takes his chances by jumping onto a passing train. There he is welcomed as a vet for the animals. As the days go on, he's become great friends with August, a circus boss, and his wife Marlena, a performer. Slowly Jacob begins to fall in love with Marlena and hate August for his cruelty to the animals and other men. Meanwhile, the circus buys an elephant named Rosie, who at first seemed stupid and worthless, was soon a main act of the show, thanks to Jacob. Then August accuses Jacob and Marlena of having an affair behind his back, which made him go into a madmen state, beating up Jacob and hitting his own wife. Suffering enough of the abuse, Marlena divorces him and Jacob was there immediately to support her. As Uncle Al (overall circus manager) realizes that August is becoming difficult to work with due to his hate for himself because of what he did to Marlena and Jacob, he forces Jacob to try to get Marlena and August back together. However, Jacob doesn’t follow the command, still having affairs with Marlena, but when his two close friends gets 'redlighted', he realizes that Uncle Al was going after him. Luckily enough, a terrible stampede happened on the next circus act, leaving many of the workers homeless, and August and Uncle Al dead. Jacob immediately marries Marlena and decide to join Ringling's circus, where they had their first child. As the story goes, another story unfolding as well - the one with Jacob as ninety or ninety three (it's a debate throughout the book) reflecting on what happened through his life in the circus and his life now, in a nursing home with others of his own age or younger. In the end, even though no one came to visit Jacob and take him to the circus near the senior’s home, Jacob was determined and arrived at the circus on his own. There, he meets the manager of the circus who listens to his story and offers him a job in the circus as a ticket holder, and never does Jacob go back to the nursing home.

Sep 05, 2008

After accidentally running away with the circus, a young man finds danger, happiness, love, friendship and his future among the animals.


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busyinbillspants Jun 05, 2012

"I want her to melt into me, like butter on toast. I want to absorb her and walk around for the rest of my days with her encased in my skin. I lie motionless, savoring the feeling of her body against mine. I'm afraid to breathe in case I break the spell.”

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