I’m always intrigued by fact-based historical fiction and The Orphan’s Tale was inspired by two stories from WWII: that of a German circus who hid Jews among their performers, and one of the Nazis filling rail cars with Jewish babies from their families. One tale heroic, one horrific, both inspired an amazing book.
If you haven’t read Pam Jenoff before, you are in for a treat; she is a master at creating characters and stories from factual accounts and histories. Read on for my review of her newest book, The Orphan’s Tale.
The Orphan’s Tale
Publisher: Harlequin (US & Canada)
Genre: General Fiction/Historical Fiction
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.
What a gorgeous and heartbreaking tale! Pam Jenoff meshes two seemingly incompatible ideas – a traveling circus during the Holocaust – and produces a beautiful, devastating tale. From the opening pages where the as-yet-unidentified woman makes her break from her nursing home to visit a museum exhibit in Paris, to the moment Noa makes a devastating discovery in the railway station that will change her life, we are completely swept away. Told from alternating points of view of 16-year-old Noa and Astrid, a Jewish aerialist with the (German) circus, their stories soon become entwined and more complex. This is a story of finding one’s family, and of perseverance and trust.
I simply couldn’t put it down, and let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding when I finally did. It isn’t until the very end when we learn who the orphan is. The Orphan’s Tale is imply a stunning novel for such a heavy setting. Fans of Water for Elephants will love this story.
It was fascinating to learn that this fictional work is inspired and rooted in fact, and Jenoff’s research is evident in the details. That traveling circuses helped to hide Jewish people was a story I had not heard, and this book pays homage to the bravery of these people.“We cannot change who we are. Sooner or later we will all have to face ourselves.” ― @PamJenoff, The Orphan's Tale Click To Tweet
About the Author of The Orphan’s Tale
Pam Jenoff is the author of The Kommandant’s Girl, which received widespread acclaim, earned her a nomination for the Quill Awards and became an international bestseller, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat’s Wife, The Ambassador’s Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion.
She previously served as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department in Europe, as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon and as a practicing attorney at a large firm and in-house. She received her juris doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, her masters degree in history from Cambridge University and her bachelors degree in international affairs from The George Washington University. Pam Jenoff lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school. Pam would love to skype with your book club or library group!
Many thanks to the NetGalley and Harlequin for providing me with an advanced reader copy. All thoughts and opinions (and typos) are my own. This post contains affiliate links.