Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

by Becky
Published: Updated:

Why: I swear this was inadvertently another World War II read! The cover actually caught my eye because I have been fascinated with trains since I was a little girl and would run down the block to count engines and hope to see a caboose. What sold me, though, was the comparison of this work to Water for Elephants and The Nightingale. I read Water for Elephants a few years back and greatly enjoyed it, and I have heard nothing but great reviews of The Nightingale – including from our own Janna!

It amazes me the things that people forget or leave behind.

Story: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff shares the story of two women whose lives have been torn apart by the war in Europe. Both alone and outsiders in their present circumstances, they find themselves welcomed into the world of a traveling circus. Astrid, a Jew, and Noa, a young girl on the run, become an unlikely duo, even by the standards of the circus – known for unique characters. Afraid and hesitant to share the secrets that consume their existence, the women are forced to rely on one another as danger rapidly closes in.

Forty feet. That is what stands between life and death, the thinnest sliver of a divide.

Opinion: This book didn’t hook me from page one, but by the time I got to the end, I was speed-reading. I had to know what happened next! It was these early “set up” chapters, however, that built the work into its masterpiece. The details of those situations are blended in as the story develops, which means a reader just has to have a little patience – not my forte. I’m so glad I pushed ahead though, because I was quickly rewarded and have to admit I was even content with the conclusion! For me, it satisfied my desire for justice and a “happy ending” while managing to retain an element of surprise.

Overall, The Orphan’s Tale weaves a very real story of love, loss, and friendship in the surreal setting of the big top. What I find most appealing about this juxtaposition is that the theme of pretending to be someone you’re not is played out literally as the characters put on costumes and become an act. Noa and Astrid have both played different roles throughout their lives and the inner dialogue that Jenoff creates to accompany the struggle of processing these past lives while living in the present is heart-wrenching. In a good way! …if there is such a thing!

The air is still with that silence that only snow can bring.

Recommendation: There is action and the plot does move along fairly quickly, but this is a character-driven novel. If you enjoy that dive into deeper personal feelings, this would be right up your ally. It is not, however, your typical WWII read where the war is loud and prominent. Here, the war serves as background context, brewing under the surface and coming to light in the circumstances of the characters and situational additions of Nazi police force. The idea, fear and fallout of the war is ever present, but if you were looking for a WWII read, there are other options I would recommend first.

Finally, I do have to agree that if you’ve read Water for Elephants and are looking for something like that, this is a great selection! The writing is artful, full of emotion and puts you in the heart of the circus.

And the next generation had followed and the one after that, the very oddest sort of family business.

Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post! There are great prompts at the end of this book, and some of these questions stem from that list.)

  1. How are Astrid and Noa similar? How are they different?
  2. What is Astrid’s biggest strength and her biggest weakness? What about Noa’s?
  3. Did you find yourself relating more to Astrid or Noa? Why?
  4. Who is the main character?
  5. Romance is an underlying theme of this book. How do your feelings for Erich, Peter and Luc change throughout the novel?
  6. What about the theme of family? What does “family” mean to Astrid? Noa? Others?
  7. I mentioned the conclusion of this book satisfied me. How about you? Why or why not?

Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for the book in exchange for my honest review!

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.

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Elizabeth (Silver's Reviews) March 6, 2017 - 2:37 pm

Absolutely loved this book. I agree it didn’t hook me at first either, but it is so good.

Learned another new fact about WWII.

Fantastic review.

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours March 10, 2017 - 3:29 pm

Having the war as the background rather than the focus of the story is an interesting way to approach a story and I’m interested to read this one!

Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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