The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan's Tale

by Pam Jenoff

Overview: The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff.

Seventeen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier during the occupation of her native Holland. Heartbroken over the loss of the baby she was forced to give up for adoption, she lives above a small German rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep.

When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants, unknown children ripped from their parents and headed for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the baby that was taken from her. In a moment that will change the course of her life, she steals one of the babies and flees into the snowy night, where she is rescued by a German circus.

The circus owner offers to teach Noa 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 unlikely friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

Deanna Boe (04/25/18): THE ORPHAN’S TALE by Pam Jenoff tells how unusual groups did go out of their way to help Jews escape the notice of the Germans. This is a case where I am sorry I hadn’t read the author’s notes at the end to discover that the storyline was based somewhat on true situations. The narrative reminded me of the movie THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH and because of that I found myself thinking the author had simply created the book’s plot more or less from that. Not true, Jenoff had completed lots of research about a circus in Europe during WW II and how it had tried to help Jews by giving them positions in their shows. Jenoff had also read about a box car filled with Jewish babies sent to a concentration camp. She then combined these two entirely different situations to create the novel. It is an easy to read book that continues to amaze me that there was a time in our world’s history we overlooked the rise of Hitler and the Nazi’s power until it was almost too late. Jenoff captures your attention early in the novel and keeps it until the end.
Rating: ****

Debbie Weiss (09/18/17): I really loved this book. The story of two women during WW II whose very different lives converged in a traveling circus was written beautifully by author Pam Jenoff. Though these main characters would probably never have crossed paths in ordinary times, the extraordinary times of war caused them to meet and form a unique bond. They both had suffered emotional pain in their lives, but they got through the difficult times by depending on each other. I had the good fortune to see Pam Jenoff speak at the Decatur Book Festival just a few weeks ago. I was taken with her intelligence and her dedication to her writing. She has a law degree and was working for the government overseas many years ago. She came across accounts of circuses that traveled during the war and of boxcars filled only with Jewish babies that would take the infants to their final destinations, far from their parents. Pulling from these historical events, Pam created a thrilling story that for me, at least, made it very difficult to put the book down.
Rating: *****

Marilyn Baron (08/22/17): Just when I thought there couldn’t be another horrifying, but fascinating twist on a WW II story, I read “The Orphan’s Tale,” by Pam Jenoff. Inspired by two stories in the archives of Yad Vashem—an account of the “Unknown Children,” a boxcar full of babies ripped from their families, headed for a concentration camp, and the story of a German circus that had sheltered Jews during the war— the author brought those stories to life in her novel. Woven into the fictional tale was the fact that Germans married to Jews were ordered to divorce their Jewish wives.

This book was recommended to me by my sister-in-law, whose recommendations I always enjoy and WWII novels are my favorite novels to read. As expected, I really enjoyed this book. At first, I was confused by who was telling the story (which was intentional). There were two female lead characters with similar stories and even when the chapter’s points of view were identified, I was unclear about the identity of the characters, Noa and Astrid. Eventually, the differences became clear, even as the bond between them grew. The story got better as it unfolded and the fast-paced ending was a tearjerker, even though there were some happy surprises. It was similar in structure to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, one of my favorite books.

I would recommend “The Orphan’s Tale,” especially to readers who like books about WW II.
Rating: *****

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