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131 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
Unlike the previous reviewer, I was truly 'swept away' by this book. It was so full of fascinating insights, wonderful (though not always lovable) characters and a story line that I couldn't put down. I loved the fact that all the anecdotes were taken from old circus history and I'd never heard of the great circus trains of mid 1900's America. As a bonus Ms Gruen has...
Published on 19 Jan 2007 by DubaiReader

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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining circus tale
The most poignant and amusing part of this book about an old man in a nursing home reminiscing about his youth working as a vet in a travelling circus, are the sections describing his feelings about the way he is treated by the staff in the home. The recollections of circus life include some good historical detail based on substantial research by the author. However,...
Published on 29 Jan 2009 by G. Gray


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131 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 19 Jan 2007
By 
DubaiReader "MaryAnne" (Rowlands Castle, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Water for Elephants (Paperback)
Unlike the previous reviewer, I was truly 'swept away' by this book. It was so full of fascinating insights, wonderful (though not always lovable) characters and a story line that I couldn't put down. I loved the fact that all the anecdotes were taken from old circus history and I'd never heard of the great circus trains of mid 1900's America. As a bonus Ms Gruen has included some superb photos from circus archives that really complement the narrative.

Jacob Jancowski is studying for his final exams in veterinary medicine when the death of his parents leaves him in dire straits, both mentally and financially. In his confusion and despair he finds himself wandering, and before he comes to his senses he's jumped a train and entered a new life. It's a life full of highs and lows, a fast learning curve for a fresh faced lad from an Ivy League University.

Jacob, however, finds his niche and so unravels a wonderful story of an unknown time in a traveling circus.

Alongside this runs the current day Jacob, an old man in a nursing home, waiting out the end of his days, when the circus comes to town....

I loved the way the two stories were woven together at the end of the book, but I'm not going to give anything away. You'll have to read it!

My book of the year this year was Joanne Harris's "Gentlemen and Players", but at the last minute I think this book has pipped her to the post!
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94 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So real you can smell the sawdust!, 26 Nov 2008
By 
Quite simply Water for Elephants is an exceptional read and one that any reader should not miss out on. Briefly the novel is about a circus struggling to survive the Depression-era years in America, or more specifically circus life from the perspective of an ad hoc `vetinarian' - Jacob Jankowski, who jumped on the Benzini Brothers circus train by chance, one evening.

The action in Water for Elephants is fast-paced; more than sufficient to keep the reader glued to the pages. `Pit stops' to the action comes in the form of the story reverting back to the nursing home of the present-day, where Jacob is finding his aged infirmity almost intolerable. These respites back to present-day are brief though, and inevitably the narrative shoots back quickly to Jacob's circus days where the action regains its breakneck speed.

Gruen has really done her `homework' while researching for this novel. She's created a circus world that's wholly believable; one that you feel right in the midst of (especially when she intersperses the chapters with contemporary circus photos). Gruen tells us in the `author's note' at the back of the novel that she had researched extensively for Water for Elephants and it shows! So much so that you can almost smell the menagerie, and the sawdust of the circus ring.

What really makes Water for Elephants special for me though (aside from the great storyline) is the characters. Gruen has done a remarkable job of creating some truly colourful and memorable people in the pages of her novel. Uncle Al (the circus boss) and August (the animal trainer) are characters you're going to love to hate. Marlena, Kinko the Clown aka Walter, and Camel are character's you're just going to love. You're going to love the chief protagonist Jacob Jankowski too. Personally I found him more endearing in his role as the `present day' Nonagenarian, but his struggle to fit into circus life, gain acceptance from his peers and deal with the urges of his love interest, make him a hugely engaging character.

In summing up I'd say that that Water for Elephants is one of these rare novels that will both thrill you and shock you at the same time. I really want to tell you everything about the story because it's so good, but also I don't want to tell you anything, because it will spoil the thrilling `ride' you're going to find yourself on when you read this novel. Sufficed to say that the story grips and twists almost ceaselessly on its way towards a quite thrilling climax. Miss this at your own peril!

Note: I should probably point out that the novel does contain some sexual content which could be considered for the more mature audience, so I probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone under 15. On the other hand I may just be being a little prudish, so perhaps you may want to check out the mature content yourself before passing the book on to any juniors (chap 3. pp.44-47, chap 8 p.97 and chap 10 pp.133-135 contain the `offending' material).
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining circus tale, 29 Jan 2009
By 
G. Gray (Moulton, Northants) - See all my reviews
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The most poignant and amusing part of this book about an old man in a nursing home reminiscing about his youth working as a vet in a travelling circus, are the sections describing his feelings about the way he is treated by the staff in the home. The recollections of circus life include some good historical detail based on substantial research by the author. However, some parts of the story seem unlikely at best and often unbelievable. The ending is rather too good to be true! I chose this title for our book club and most found it an entertaining, easy read.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Passes a few hours, 17 April 2007
By 
Sarah Durston (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Water for Elephants (Paperback)
Water for Elephants is primarily a romance set in a travelling circus in the 1930s, but we do also see the main character Jacob Janowski as he is in old age in an old folks Home.

The novel was obvoiusly well researached, many of the events in the novel are based on real happenings, and for this reason it was very enjoyable. I learned about 'red-lighting' and the etiquette of the time surrounding performers fratenising with circus hands!

I did have some difficulty with the book being written as a first person narration. I think that Gruen gave herself unnecessary problems writing in this way, with Jacob witnessing conversations that it was unlikely he would have been involved in and making observations that seemed a little unlikely with what we knew about his character and experience. However this is a minor critisism.

I loved Rosie the elephant and Queenie the terrier, but animal lovers should be warned there is some pretty nasty animal cruelty in the book. It's well written but a little difficult to stomach.

All in all, a great book with a satisfying conclusion to both the young and the old Jacob storylines. I have deducted one star only because although I enjoyed the book, I wasn't really swept away.

Enjoy!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 5 April 2011
Water for Elephants: A Novel

I brought this as I thought it may be nice to read before the film comes out...I honestly was mainly interested in the film for Rob Pattinson but I must say I am glad I have read it as it is a excellent book and I didn't put it down so I finished it in a day and half and was gutted when it ended.... It is fantastically well written and I am now excited to see the big screen adaption as I think it will be excellent and no longer just for my R Patz fill.

Really is worth the read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Readable, but lacking in emotional depth, 7 Oct 2011
I loved the scenes in the retirement home, which were beautifully written...and the backdrop of the circus was wonderful. This could have been a real classic but in my opinion the relationship between Jacob and Marlena was badly written with no depth of emotion, with the result that the love story fell completely flat. It was hard to care about whether Jacob and Marlena got together at all!! Frustratingly disappointing - because it could have been so good!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All the fun of the circus, 23 Nov 2009
This book has lots to offer, all the life and colour of the circus in fact. The setting was atmospheric and colourful, the cast of characters well drawn (but slightly clichéd) and the plot engaging. I challenge you not to fall in love with Rosie the elephant.

Gruen doesn't shy away from the darker side of circus life either, and it's within this darker underbelly that most of the action takes place (including scenes of animal cruelty so be warned). The plot mostly centres on a romance, but there is also the back drop of the depression, the ruthlessly run circus business, and the main protagonists struggle to belong, form relationships, and find a new family within the circus - all the while trying to stay true to his beliefs.

I liked the way it was constructed, jumping from elderly Jacob coping with the effects of aging in the nursing home, and then back to his time in the circus. The nursing home scenes are some of the best in the book for me: sensitive, charming and sad.

My only criticisms would be that some of the characters could have been developed a little bit more, some didn't seem to make it beyond caricature status. The writing style also didn't offer as much suspense as it should have because it bordered on clichéd and obvious for the most part. Criticism aside I still enjoyed this book.

I have given this book four stars because although I loved it, for me it didn't leave that lasting impression that I need to give five stars.

I would recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water for Elephants, 31 Mar 2009
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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'The best book I've read this year' says Jodi Picoult on the back cover - well who am I to argue?

The story takes place over two timeframes - the 1930s when Jacob 'accidentally' joins the circus following a family tragedy, and the present day when he's living in a nursing home, fading fast and virtually forgotten by his family. One day the circus comes to town and this sets the cantankerous Jacob off on a nostalgic journey, reliving his time as part of 'The Most Spectacular Show on Earth'.

As well as the glamour and excitement of the circus - yes it's a cliche but you can almost smell the sawdust - Gruen also deals with the more sinister aspects - the use of 'freaks' (real and pretend), the shocking treatment of workers who are too old or sick to work and the harsh realities of trying to stay afloat in Depression-era America. There are some fascinating characters , including the dastardly but charismatic 'Equestrian Director' August, who is married to the beautiful Marlena, and of course there are also the four-legged stars, including Rosie the elephant who turns out to be a most unlikely heroine. August is cruel and twisted, and the scenes where he unleashes his anger on the animals, especially the headstrong Rosie, are hard to read. Thankfully though, they're not too graphic - I wouldn't have been able to read them if they were.

My one niggle with the book is that whilst I was happy to read about animal circuses set in the 1930s, I'm very uncomfortable with animals being used in circuses in the 21st century and I was hoping that Sara Gruen would say something to this effect in her interview at the back of the book. She skirts around the issue a bit, saying that she had difficulty getting information out of circus folk for her research, because PETA and other groups are "coming after them". I was shocked to read on the RSPCA website that wild animals are still 'performing' in circuses in the UK. I thought this had been phased out, so I've sent an email to my MP (using the template on the website) to ask him to raise the issue.

Overall though, I'm with Jodi on this one and this beautifully told, colourful and atmospheric story will definitely be in the running for one of my books of the year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Running away with the circus, 29 July 2011
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This is an easy, entertaining read, but is fundamentally little more than throwaway fluff, enjoyable but instantly forgettable. The circus in 1930s America is all dazzle and sequins on the surface but hides a rather dreary back-stage life full of 'freaks' (the 'dwarf', the 'fat lady') and partially-abused animals. Into this Gruen inserts a rather well-worn love triangle: innocent Jacob, radiant unhappy Marlena, and her charming-but-brutal husband August.

This is cute and rather sentimental, the kind of book where people seriously say 'I think I loved you from the first moment I saw you'. I guess I expected something more atmospheric (this could be pretty much have been set anywhere, at other times than the 30s - a brief excursion to a speak-easy and laying off workers really isn't enough to ground the period), and a more surprising or engaging plot.

Ideal for when you need something relaxing, non-taxing, and fun.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best this year!, 24 May 2011
By 
D. Cotton "Voguedotcom" (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and I can't believe it has taken me this long to get around to reading it!
I didn't think I would really enjoy a novel about the circus, but after a friend recommended it to me, and after reading so many good reviews, I decided to give it a go. I am so glad that I did. It was interesting, exciting and moving.
I particularly enjoyed the way the chapters changed between the present and the past with the circus.
Absolutely brilliant. A 5 star rating, well-deserved!
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