Feature Book By Pam Jenoff

The Orphan's Tale

The Orphan's Tale

Pam Jenoff writes riveting and compelling novels about characters that lived through World War II either rising to the occasion with acts of courage or bravery or putting their own needs ahead of humanity.

The Orphan’s Tale, her latest novel, is a story of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II. It highlights two vastly different women, a Jewish circus aerialist and a teenage runaway with a baby, both becoming emotionally dependent upon one another. Sixteen-year-old Noa is cast out by her family after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier. Forced to give up her child she seeks redemption after deciding to rescue a half-dead Jewish infant from a train that is bound for a concentration camp. Knowing she must flee to protect herself and the child she seeks refuge with a German circus. It is here she meets Astrid. She is also taking refuge after her Nazi husband, a German officer, chooses his position over his wife. Astrid, an accomplished circus aerialist who starred in her Jewish family’s circus for many years, must now train Noa. It is imperative that everyone in the circus has an assignment to keep the hounding Nazis at bay. The tension mounts as danger surrounds the circus where readers will worry about each woman’s fate.

About the Author Pam Jenoff

Pam JenoffPam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master's in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, 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 lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.


An Interview with Pam Jenoff (Interviewer Elise Cooper)

Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea to write these types of books?

Pam Jenoff: I was a diplomat for the state department in Poland approximately twenty years ago.  I was the Vice Consul for the US Consulate in Krakow and found myself working on many Holocaust related issues.  I was very moved by those experiences. I think my books reflect that.

EC: Do you base your stories on real life experiences?

PJ: I do use true stories to inspire my fictional work.  For example, in this book, my latest, I found two stories in the Yad Vashem archives. One told of a train of only children headed to a concentration camp and the other about a German circus that rescued Jews.  I combined them for this story.

EC: Your stories do not emphasize the Concentration Camps?

PJ: None of my books go deep into the Camps.  Probably the ending of The Winter Guest comes as close as I get, and even that is indirect.  In my first book, The Kommandant’s Girl, I wrote about dinner parties going on where fifty kilometers away was Auschwitz.  I think some writers are visceral in their approach while others of us write through a different lens.

EC: Having lived in Poland did you gain a certain perspective that influenced your writings?

PJ: As a Jew I have a different perspective, connection, and moral obligation. But I also think my perspective is distinctive after living among the ordinary Poles for 2 1/2 years.  I saw a lot of different facets going on.  I remember talking with people who emphasized they were an occupied nation where three million Poles died. 

EC: What is true in this story?

PJ: The circus owner did rescue a Jewish family. He is in Yad Vashem as a righteous gentile for saving Jews.  I think many do not know that there were centuries of Jewish circus dynasties in Europe that were largely wiped out at the end of the war.  There was also this gradual degradation where normal lives were stripped away.  The circus character Astrid was inspired by a real life circus performer who did hide with a circus and did fall in love with a clown named Peter.  Also true is that a Nazi German officer was married to a Jew.  In real life he defected with the family.

EC: Do you think you have a certain writing style?

PJ: All of my books have women heroines during WWII. Some of my characters are very courageous, while others only think about their own survival.  This was very true in my book The Winter Guest.  When I write I think what would I have done during the war? The individual choices people made had a definite range of responses. I also write about the traditions for the authenticity and beliefs of my characters. 

EC: What do you want readers to get out of the books?

PJ: People during WWII lived their lives even under the most awful of conditions.  If you take the women of my books and put them in a certain circumstance what path have they experienced?  During the war they are tested and because of the unusual circumstances they had to grow with it.  They have individualized human responses that many times are complex. 

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?

PJ: It will be a fictionalized version based on twelve women who were secret agents for Britain in occupied Europe.  They went missing and were never heard from again.  It is a story of what might have happened.




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