February 22, 2019

Book Review: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff


The Orphan's Tale

by Pam Jenoff

Genres: Historical Fiction, WWII
Publisher: Mira Books 
Length: 353 pages 
Published: February 21, 2017 
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"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."

Quote:

"We cannot change who we are. Sooner or later we will all have to face ourselves."

The UK edition cover

Excerpt (from the Prologue):

"I should have told someone I was going. They would have only tried to stop me, though. My escape, months in the planning since I'd read about the upcoming exhibit in the Times, had been well orchestrated: I had bribed an aide at the nursing home to take the photo I needed to mail to the passport office, paid for the plane ticket in cash. I'd almost been caught when the taxicab I'd called pulled up in front of the home in the predawn darkness and honked loudly. but the guard at the desk remained asleep.

Summoning my strength now, I begin to climb again, taking each painful step one by one. Inside the lobby, the opening gala is already in full swing, clusters of men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns mingling beneath the elaborately painted dome ceiling. Conversations in French bubble around me like a long-forgotten perfume I am desperate to inhale. Familiar words trickle back, first in a stream then a river, though I've scarcely hear them in half a century."

My Book Review:

Pam Jenoff's The Orphan's Tale is the story of how two women—Astrid, a Jewish circus performer, and Noa, a teenager pregnant with a Nazi soldier’s baby—eventually cross paths and how their lives become entwined.

The beginning chapters and alternating narrators are really captivating, however, the story sacrifices some writing quality whenever it becomes a bit too much like a Hallmark romance/drama which distracts from the gravity and seriousness of the Holocaust backdrop.

Noa's parents kick her out of their house after discovering she is pregnant and when she finds respite in a hospital for teen mothers, she thinks she'll be safe after she delivers her baby. Soon thereafter, however, her baby is taken from her and Noa is left distraught and wandering about a strange town in the middle of winter. When a Nazi train briefly stops nearby, Noa's attention is grabbed by the sound of crying babies. Reaching one of the railway cars, she opens its doors to find the horrific sight of hundreds of stolen, Jewish babies. Crammed, naked, and dying, Noa desperately snatches one of the children and flees, hoping to save both the child and herself in her attempt. When she awakes, Noa finds she has been taken in by a local circus troop, much to the displeasure of Astrid, a famed trapeze performer who has now been tasked with the responsibility of training Noa to perform in a matter of weeks. Like Noa, Astrid has secrets of her own.

The novel's exposition was riveting. However, once Noa settles into life with the circus, her choices repeatedly annoyed me. Astrid's story is compelling, but due to the alternating chapters, the continually focus back on Noa was distracting. The choices she makes to put Astrid's life in danger are beyond frustrating.

The ending was not what I thought it would be and I found it to be a bit too romanticized, though I know there's definitely an audience for this. Overall, it's still a worthwhile book if you’re interested in WWII historical fiction.

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