Two women trapped in Nazi Germany find refuge with a traveling circus and with each other. As the circus struggles to stay in business, it offers its performers their best hope for escape and survival. Astrid, a trained aerialist, is charged with teaching Noa to perform in the trapeze act. Only through these death defying airborne tricks can they keep themselves and the whole circus safe.
The contrast between the illusory world of the circus and the harsh brutality of Nazi rule serves as a strong foundation for Pam Jenoff’s narrative. Her description of circus life, and particularly the participation of Jewish families before the war, adds both historical nuance and imaginative escape. Jenoff does not shield her readers from the worst of Nazi atrocities, including scenes of haunting cruelty.
In The Orphan’s Tale, Jenoff’s circus is filled with unique characters, each deeply human and with an individual story to tell. Unfortunately, Jenoff chose to use an alternating first-person narrative style. While this did not interfere with the book’s action, which was clear and well-paced, the focus on Astrid and Noa came at the cost of further character development. The male characters, especially the circus owner Herr Neuhoff, begged for more attention. With Jenoff’s incredible writing skills, another hundred pages to explore these supporting characters would have been welcome!
With The Orphan’s Tale, Pam Jenoff has written a deeply moving story. It’s nearly impossible to put down once started, and will continue to resonate long afterward being finished. The book is a fantastic example of strong historical fiction, and anyone with a passing interest in the genre and the Holocaust would appreciate it. Its diverse characters and representation of the circus as community provides even more food for thoughtful discussion. This book deserves to be read and shared widely.
Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin Press for the ARC. I was thrilled to read it and am excited to share my enthusiasm for The Orphan’s Tale.