I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
Published by Mira on February 21st 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Source: complimentary review copy
Amazon / Barnes & Noble
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Here I am on a flight bound to Phoenix and what book do I choose to read? The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff. Oh my goodness dearest ones. If you embarrass easily, don’t read this one on the plane. I started ugly sobbing about 3/4 of the way through and didn’t stop until we landed in Arizona!
Historical fiction set during World War II is a personal favorite. There is still so much to be learned about the Holocaust and World War II. For example, did you know the circus continued to operate and perform during much of the war? And that some of the performers were Jewish, hiding in plain sight. Brilliant!
The Orphan’s Tale takes us backstage as a high-flying circus performer. The story begins with Noa, a young girl cast from her home in Holland for becoming pregnant by a German soldier. We learn Noa was accepted into a home for unwed mothers pregnant with what the Nazi’s deemed the perfect race. But something goes horribly wrong when Noa’s baby is born, and Noa is left with empty arms and a large hole in place of her heart.
As The Orphan’s Tale begins, Noa is working in a train station for scraps simply trying to survive. When she hears a strange noise from one of the train cars, 17-year-old Noa breaks every rule by opening the door. What she finds inside turns her blood cold – baby upon baby thrown on top of one another, some with tatters for clothes, some completely naked, most frozen in the bitter cold. Discovering one infant still alive, softly mewling, Noa rescues the baby bound for the gas chambers. With little thought of where to go, how to get away, what to do, Noa escapes deep into the woods running until she can run no more.
Discovered in the woods by members of the local well-known circus, Noa and the rescued infant are taken in and nursed back to health. Given the choice to depart the circus or stay and earn her keep, Noa is apprenticed to well-known lead aerialist, Astrid. Astrid hails from a neighboring circus whose business had been shut down because the family was Jewish. Astrid’s family was well-known throughout the area for their skills, especially on the flying trapeze. And all of this happens in the first few pages.A book of unlikely friendships, the humanity of strangers and sacrifice for the greater good. Must read. Click To Tweet
I’ve read extensively books set in and around World War II. The Orphan’s Tale is the first fictional account I’m aware of to focus on the efforts of the circus during the war. The dichotomy of villagers and soldiers attending the circus as if nothing was amiss baffles me. Though I know it was so. Pam Jenoff does a superb job of creating layers of conflict. The layer upon layer of human emotion are deftly woven, believable and oh so heartbreaking. What could have easily turned into a tragic account of mankind becomes an opportunity for man to reveal his most kind nature.
My only complaint throughout the entire novel was Astrid’s secrets versus Noa’s secrets – and it’s probably that I can’t fathom being prudish about the differing secrets. One is accepting of the other when her secret is revealed, but at a later time, when the roles are reversed, there is no acceptance – only hurt, betrayal, anger.
If you are looking for a book about the love of friendship, the humanity of strangers, and sacrifice for the greater good . . .The Orphan’s Tale is for you. I was reminded of the verse Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me. Matthew 25:40 This book epitomizes loving your neighbor as yourself. Beautiful, profound, and devastating, it is a book that must be read. Just be sure to have tissues handy.
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Many thanks to Mira and NetGalley for the early review copy.