Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan's Tale
By Pam Jenoff
Published: February 21, 2017

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival 
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.

My review:

Ingrid's family once had a very successful circus until they could no longer perform. As Jews, it was illegal for them to have non Jewish employees and gradually the business fell apart. Ingrid had fallen in love and married a young man, moving to Berlin. Unfortunately he was also a Nazi and though he loved Ingrid, when their marriage was declared illegal, he divorced her. She returned to the family home only to find they were gone. She hadn't heard from them in months and now feared the worst. Thankfully she was given refuge by a neighbor and leader of a rival circus, Herr Neuhoff. Herr Neuhoff offers Ingrid a place with his circus as a trapeze artist and she accepts, knowing she doesn't have much choice. Fortunately he turns out to be a very kind man and though Ingrid (now renamed Astrid for her protection) initially struggles to fit in, she even finds new love. Then they discover a young girl and a baby in the snow...

Noa stumbles across the Neuhoff circus after she rescues a Jewish baby from a train car. Herr Neuhoff takes her in but she has to join the circus act. Noa has gymnastic skills but it has been a long time and training to be an aerialist is a challenge. It doesn't help that Astrid doesn't seem to like her or believe she can do it. Reluctantly Astrid and Noa become friends but danger is always around them with Nazi officials prowling.

The Orphan's Tale is reminiscent of Water for Elephants in that it is about circus life.  What makes it different is that it takes place in WWII Europe.  It is both an emotional story and a fascinating look at circus life during a difficult time in history. I don't know how realistic it would be for someone like Noa to learn to be an aerialist but it was certainly interesting to read about. On the surface Noa and Astrid seem so different but they both have hidden strength that allows them to survive so much suffering. The danger of discovery by the Nazis is a constant threat and there are also other dangers involved with being part of a circus act. I thought the friendship that developed between Noa and Astrid was natural but the romantic relationship between Noa and Luc didn't work as well. It just seemed rushed. While Astrid and Peter's romance begins off the page, we at least get to see some growth and development there. We get to know Peter but the addition of Luc felt like a convenient plot point.

Overall I thought this book was fantastic. The story was touching and suspenseful and I enjoyed the added historical details as well. I had no idea circuses were operating in Europe during the war. I think readers who liked Water for Elephants or historical fiction set during WWII would like this. It would be a great selection for book discussion groups too. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley


  1. I'm not sure I would like this book since I didn't care for Water for Elephants or books about circuses. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I will have to get it out from the library. I really enjoyed Jenoff's The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach, so I've been curious about this one. I love WWII books, so you've sold me! Great review, Christina.

  3. An author I like though I have not been able to get to this one. Thanks for the review.


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