Title: The Orphan’s Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Date: February 21, 2017
Sixteen year old Noa had a life that was serviceable. It wasn’t anyone’s dream life but she had a roof over her head and parents who met her needs – for the most part. That all changed when she revealed to her folks that she was going to have a baby. Not only that, the father was a Nazi. Thrown out with no possibility of returning home, she had to make her way in the world when things were already impossibly hard for everyone. She thought she had a plan for her life when she found a home that promised care for unwed mothers of pure blooded Germans, but when her baby had dark hair and skin (despite her beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes) they refused to allow her to keep her child. She ends up working at a railway station as a cleaning woman.
One night when she is working her way carefully through her duties, she hears a strange noise. Convinced there will likely be a mess to clean up, she’s stunned to find a railway car packed with the bodies of hundreds of babies. And in the middle, one of them is definitely not dead. Unable to turn her back on the child, she takes him and runs toward the woods. No shelter. No friends. Now no job and with an infant to care for her, she has hit rock bottom for sure.
Astrid had a beautiful life. Married to a Nazi, she lived in a beautiful apartment surrounded by love, society, and beautiful things. But one day her husband comes home and tells her that they must divorce. Why? She’s a Jew. He loves her deeply, but if she doesn’t escape, she could lose her life. And so could he. So he puts her away. Not sure where her family might be, she returns to the land where she grew up as a famous young trapeze artist. Though it’s been quite a long time, this is how she will make her way in the world. Flying back and forth through the air for the entertainment of the masses, she does her best to stay under the Nazi radar.
When Noa encounters the circus, she is sure she has nothing to offer. The manager of the circus sees something in her though and agrees to take her on as an aerialist in training. Astrid needs to train Noa to fly. And she must fly well, or the circus will fold. Everything was up to them.
Pam Jenoff writes the most brutally raw and honest characters that I’ve read in a long time. The world is so vivid, rich, and full of detail that you can’t help but be drawn into the story. From the first sentence, you can’t help but wonder what’s happening and how things are going to turn out. Since we have the gift of knowing how life will turn out in this era, that makes the reading visceral, raw and haunting from the first sentence.
This story, these women, and the plot twists throughout are captivating and engaging. Seriously, once you start this book, you will not want to stop. It’s a beautiful story that unfolds in layers, but each layer is full and deep, drawing you into their lives and stories.
I absolutely adore Jenoff’s work. The first book I read by her was The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. At that moment I became a Jenoff fan and I am so happy to report that this book does not disappoint.
When you get to the end of this book, Jenoff explains her inspiration for the story and it is from a real life couple and circus. I will hold on to those names – you’ll be able to find them at the end of the book. I spent more than an hour getting lost in the reality of their existence. I love it when you discover that something in your fiction was based on reality. It’s the epitome of beautiful storytelling and Pam Jenoff does it with the deepest respect and a beautiful engaging manner that will delight you and entice you. But it’s also possible that reading this book might touch you enough to change you just a little. That’s the power of story and Jenoff has that in spades.