I enjoy stories set in WWII and particularly those that are based on real events. Pam Jenoff’s “The Orphan’s Tale” immediately tempted me for the same reasons when Lisa offered it to me for a book review. There was friendship, romance, history. It couldn’t go that wrong, I thought.
The story revolves around Noa and Astrid, two women who are on the run from the Germans for different reasons. Noa is a Dutch girl who got pregnant by a German soldier and was cast off from her house. She gets a job as a cleaner at a railway station and one day she chances upon a railcar filled with babies. She escapes with one of them, whom she later names Theo, and is found by an itinerant circus troupe when was near death, trudging through snow. The circus takes them in and here she meets Astrid who is Jewish. Needless to say, the circus is a great cover for her. The novel follows the lives of these two women and the people they are associated with.
I loved how Jenoff has managed to create a lingering atmosphere of fear and worry. Two feelings that everyone is always clouded with despite the rare moments of happiness. The rebuilding and reimagination of history is a tough task and it’s very easy to get lost in dry details without giving colour to the story. Jenoff has managed to strike that balance in many parts. She shows that even during the hard times there is space for relationships. Astrid and Noa start off on a rough note but then end up developing a tender and affectionate friendship where they have each other’s backs (literally as well). I liked that the story was set against the backdrop of a circus (reminded me of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants in many ways), giving a somewhat unique perspective on the war.
“The circus is a great equalizer… no matter class or race or background, we are all the same here…” muses Astrid at some point. Circuses across Europe like Circus Williams and Spanischer National Circus sheltered and provided employment to Jews during the war. Jenoff’s story reimagines their world, a mix of gentiles and Jews, conflicts and friendships, bringing it alive through her descriptive writing. Although the characters could have been developed further, given more shades and depth, it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this book. I would recommend this as a quick read.
Thank you to Harlequin for forwarding me this ARC!