Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

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From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is an incredible story. A tale of friendship, family, and love comes alive in a place where one would least expect it: a time of war and a time of fear. Noa has had to grow up faster than any 16 year old should. She has been shunned by her biological family, given up her child unwillingly, and has rescued a Jewish child from the brink of death. With little hope of staying alive, Noa does all she can to protect this child, a child that isn’t even her own. When she is found in the woods, she is taken to a practice grounds for the circus. Since it is winter, she is given very little time to prove herself so that she can travel from Germany to France and perform as a part of the flying trapeze.

Astrid, Noa’s trainer, grew up with her family’s circus and left to marry a German, even though she is Jewish. After forcing a divorce on her, Astrid finds her family’s rival circus and is asked to join them with the promise of her own safety. The two girls need each other to survive but that doesn’t mean the road to survival is easy. During her short time with the circus, Noa learns that sometimes family can be found in places one wouldn’t think to look.

I am kind of obsessed with the mysteries behind the circus life. This is strange for me because I am one of those people who is terrified of clowns. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is one of my favorite books, as well as, Menagerie by Rachael Vincent.  We are lead to believe that the life of circus performers is full of magic, romance, and fun. In reality, circus life is a hard work, and for some people, like Noa and Astrid in The Orphan’s Tale, their only hope of survival.

Historical fiction is a genre I don’t read often. With that being said, I do enjoy learning more about WWII through fiction, no matter how horrifying and tragic the story may be. I had no idea that Jewish infants were sent on trains during the war to concentration camps: Left to die from frostbite, hunger, and lack of care. This is a devastating fact that Pam Jenoff wants her readers to be aware of. As WWII drifts further into our past, we mustn’t forget how horrific it was. Everyone, no matter what their religion, job, or age, was at risk of being arrested and sent far away. The fear that every single person woke up with, and fell asleep with, is described throughout The Orphan’s Tale.

It is surprising that during the war, circuses were still allowed to practice, travel, perform. It wasn’t easy for them, a long list of rules kept them from touring as they normally would, but as they say in the circus world, “The show must go on.” In a time of high stress, these performers brought joy to those who could still afford little luxuries. The circus was a place where a few Jewish performers tried to escape the Holocaust. Ringmasters took great risks, like Herr Neuhoff in the novel, to protect these people from concentration camps; unsung heroes that you won’t learn about in your history books. One of the stories that influenced Pam Jenoff to write this fictional story can be found here.

The characters in The Orphan’s Tale are inspiring. They show an enormous amount of courage which helps them overcome obstacles, not only to protect themselves, but also to protect each other. The ending on this novel is heartbreaking and unexpected. The Orphan’s Tale provides a unique look at WWII and how even during a time of darkness, there were people still trying to spread light and hope.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.

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