Book Review: The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

Cast out by her family in Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen-year-old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him in the snowy night into the woods surrounding the tracks. She stumbles upon a German circus, led by the famous Herr Neuhoff, where each performer has their own history and secrets. They agree to take in Noa and the baby, on one condition – she must earn her keep, and the circus is short of an aerialist. Noa will be trained by the star trapeze artist, Astrid, but first they must learn to trust one another: as they soar high above the crowds, there are more than just their own lives at stake. And as it becomes clear that even the circus cannot hide from the war forever, loyalty may prove the most dangerous trait of all.

The Nightingale meets Water For Elephants in this powerful story of friendship, love and sacrifice loosely based on several true stories from World War II, uncovered by Jenoff in her research. 

Published 23rd February 2017 by Harpercollins UK   

I loved the sound of The Orphan's Tale from the moment I read about it. Stories set during WW11 have always drawn me to them and equally, I find the life of the people living and working in the circus fascinating and intriguing. The fact that this book combined both was unusual and I began reading this book as soon as it arrived, not looking up for at least 100 pages. 

The book tells the story of two women, both very different from each other but who find themselves intricately connected, both dependent on each other for their own survival. Noa has nowhere to go, she's been banished by her family, relinquished her own baby in a country where his safety isn't certain and is living in a store cupboard in the train station where she cleans. What Noa comes across here is truly shocking and upsetting to read, it turned me cold and broke my heart. I had to stop reading for a few seconds while I composed myself. 

What Noa does next sees her fleeing for her life, and that of the Jewish baby she saved. But with no money and nowhere to go, her attempts might be in vein if it weren't for being discovered by members of the circus. Here she is offered a chance, learn the trapeze and perform for the circus and she will be protected. But the star artist of the trapeze act is furious to be landed with such a task. Yet as much as Noa needs the protection of the circus, Astrid does too..she's also Jewish.and training Noa to take the limelight may be her only chance to survive in Nazi Germany.  

The Orphan's Tale is told in alternative chapters from both women. I loved the contrast between the two. Astrid is strong, powerful, controlled and dignified. She's suffered heartache and loss, and you can feel the weight of what she carries through every word of her chapters. Her strength comes from her talent and dedication to the circus, and Pam Jenoff describes Astrid's passion for the trapeze with such conviction, I could feel her adrenaline while imagining her swooping across the air. Astrid's character really got to me, I respected and admired her, grieved for her and hoped for her. 

Noa, in  comparison, is naive, and is often rash and reckless. She rushes into situations without thinking them through, acting as her heart tells her. It's this rashness that drives her to take the baby from the train, demonstrating such spirit and courage. My opinion of Noa was conflicted through the book, the trait of acting with her heart resulting in extraordinary bravery at times, but also foolishness. Noa's actions where not always selfless, risking the safety of those who protect her for her own desires. On one occasion I did actually wonder if anyone would be as foolish as Noa in her situation, and found her defiance and recklessness frustrating. However, there is something about the childlike quality of her character that stops her becoming unlikable. 

The relationship between Noa and Astrid is difficult and built on resentment, jealousy, desperation and mistrust. yet each of them needs the other, and must learn to trust-not only if Noa is to succeed but for their very survival. I loved the development of the relationship throughout the book, and think that is what The Orphan's Tale is about - the complexities of two people, thrown together in extraordinary circumstances that create a unique bond. It's about trust, loyalty, acceptance and survival. It's beautiful and heartbreaking, leaving me with tears streaming down my face more than once. I'd recommend it.  

Yesterday, I hosted the blog tour for The Orphan's Tale with an exclusive extract from the book. You can find it here

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