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The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff: A Book Review

The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher:  MIRA
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 369
Source: Publisher/Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 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: The Orphan’s Tale tells the story of two circus performers who are struggling to survive the Nazi terror. Noa is kicked out by her family for being made pregnant by a Nazi soldier. Immediately after she gives birth to a son, her child is taken away from her, never to see him again. She eventually finds work at a railroad station. There she finds a train that is carrying dozens of Jewish infants that are going to a concentration camp. This immediately reminds her of her own child. She takes one of the infants and runs away. 

    Noa finds a home in a German circus. However, she must take on the role of a trapeze artist, which she has never done before. She is taught by Astrid, an aerialist who disapproves of her because of her inexperience. The two become rivals, but over time they have an unlikely friendship. Noa learns that Astrid is a Jew and tries to find a way to save her from the Nazis.

    Noa is a very compelling character. Her naivety about the world is very charming. I adored how she is very compassionate, empathetic, and at times self-sacrificing. Noa cares more about others than herself and that is her greatest strength. Therefore, Noa is a young girl who would always stand by her friends. I also admired how Noa has no experience in being a trapeze artist, yet she is very determined and never gives up. Some of these practicing scenes were very funny.

    As much as I like Noa, I have to say that I find Astrid’s story to be more intriguing. Astrid was once married to a German. Because she is a Jew, her husband divorces her and kicks her out on the streets. Astrid is a trained aerialist who has spent most of her life in the circus. She is given a job at a traveling circus and must train Noa. While Noa is friendly with anyone she meets, Astrid is more guarded and has a hard time trusting others. She is afraid that someone will report to the Germans about her Jewish identity. She eventually lets down her guard with Noa and strikes up a friendship with her because she admires her boldness. Thus, the friendship between Noa and Astrid is very striking and moving. It makes me root for them to survive the Nazi era.

    Overall, this novel is about friendship, survival, trust, and hope.While I found the two characters to be commendable, I found the characters around them to be flat. The romance in the novel is very poorly written. The men in Astrid and Noa’s lives are bland love interests with little character development. The setting is unique, but it lacks the details of the circus environment and the performers. Still, The Orphan’s Tale is a must read for those that are looking for a friendship story. I recommend this for fans of The Night Circus, Orphan Train, and Lilac Girls.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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