Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"The Orphan's Tale" by Pam Jenoff - Book Review

"The Orphan's Tale" by Pam Jenoff begins with a particularly tragic part of history- during the Holocaust, Jewish infants were ripped from their parents' arms and sent to camps on trains- many not surviving the journey to their grim destination. When sixteen-year-old Noa stumbles upon a train car full of these infants, she rescues one and runs for the forest. While fleeing the Nazis, Noa is discovered by a circus and joins them training to become a trapeze artist. Her trainer, Astrid, is Jewish and hiding with the circus, as well. "The Orphan's Tale" follows Noa and Astrid as they cope with the secrets they hide from each other, and those that they must hide from the world.

The Orphan's Tale
by Pam Jenoff

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.

Interesting relationship dyanmics

"It is hard when the people we love do awful things." - The Orphan's Tale
My favorite parts of "The Orphan's Tale" dealt with the relationship dynamics of secret keeping. Noa has rescued Theo, a Jewish baby, and it is essential to their survival that the people they are with think that Theo is her brother, and therefore not Jewish. Astrid is Jewish as well, and must keep that a secret from her fellow performers in the circus. Neither of them are sure whom they can and can't trust, or what the outcome might be if the truth is relieved. Noa and Astrid inevitably bond over their shared need for secrets, but also don't completely let their walls down either. This balance between the natural need for trust and connection, but also the importance of protecting yourself and others - was incredibly engaging to read.

The novel also did an excellent job exploring the betrayal that many individuals must've experienced as what was once a friend, coworker, or even spouse - was now supposed to be their greatest enemy. Astrid, is recently divorced - her husband, a Nazi soldier, asks her to pack her things and leave due to a new decree that Nazi soldiers married to Jewish women must divorce. Noa is kicked out of her home when her parents learn that she has been impregnated by a Nazi soldier. Noa is then forced to give that baby away after it is determined that his "complexion is too dark". As a reader, I was horrified by the choices the characters had to make, and the author does a remarkable job exploring the sense of betrayal and conflict these characters deal with each day.

Loved the relationship between Noa and Theo

"More and more each day it is as if a veil has been lifted and he sees the world, understanding. A tiny piece of my heart seems to break off then and there as I squeeze his fingers gently." - The Orphan's Tale
My heart ached for Noa when she forced to give up her baby, and while the rescued infant could never replace the child she lost- their connection is no less real. I really enjoyed reading about Theo and his life as an infant in the circus. In addition to connecting with Noa, he is also a source of comfort to Astrid who for a variety of reasons is childless herself. Theo's growth as an infant into toddler and his relationship with both Noa and Ingrid were definitely a highlight for me in "The Orphan's Tale".

Things I Struggled With

Anytime I can sneak a little history lesson into some fun fiction, I am game so I love reading historical fiction novels. "The Orphan Train" just barely registered for me though as a historical fiction novel. While the story does deal with the Holocaust, there are few specific details mentioned. I would have preferred a little more history, personally.

While the author did a great job building the relationships between some of the characters, particularly Noa and Theo, other relationships felt very rushed. "Insta - love" is the term, I think, most used to describe the kind of connection that characters seem to have in books when out of nowhere, with little time or conversation, to people pledge themselves to each other. There is at least one example, arguably two, in this book- and I had a hard time getting through those sections.

Typically World War II era novels are incredibly touching and gripping. And while I am not sure if it was the writing or the characters, I just did not find "The Orphan's Tale" to be that for me. I enjoyed reading it, but it just didn't resonate with me long after finishing it.

Have you read "The Orphan's Tale"? Please let me know below, I'd love to hear what you thought of this book. Thinking about reading " The Orphan's Tale"? Click here to find a copy at your local library or click below to view the book on Amazon.

Many thanks to Halequin and MIRA for allowing me to read this book prior to publication. As a "girl about library", where books are always free, you can be sure that all opinions expressed are my own. Happy reading!


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