Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Pam Jenoff

By Lynn Willoughby

The Orphan’s Tale ~ Pam Jenoff

This novel is set during WWII in Germany and in France. We find ourselves in a travelling circus and meet two extraordinary women who are aerialists in this circus.
Noa is Dutch, but when she becomes pregnant at 16, by a German officer, her father forces her out of the family home and tells her never to come back. The Nazi’s, however, want her Aryan looking baby so she is now helpless, starving and alone. She finds work cleaning a small rail station and is able to live upstairs. When a train is stopped at the station, she discovers a boxcar full of Jewish infants – most of them dead. She doesn’t stop to think, she doesn’t hesitate, she just grabs a live baby and begins to run. She is found in a snowy field by a member of the German circus. She is taken in by them, but must earn her keep by training under Astrid, on the flying trapeze.
I would have liked more of the day to day lives of the other members of the troupe, but the author centers only on Astrid and Noa. Their voices alternate between chapters. I think there would be many interesting lives in the circus and those who kept it all going. However, we only ever hear about Peter the clown and Herr Neuhoff, the owner.
We are given glimpses of the hardships, the hunger, the shortages caused by the war on not only the circus but in all the little towns where they stop. Also, the circus must deal with the restrictions, the inspections and general distrust generated by the Nazis. However, it all seemed very pattern driven and predictable. It could have been so much better in my opinion. See “The Nightingale” and “Water for Elephants”.
  • The Kommandant’s Girl
  • The Things We Cherished

Who Knew?

This book is based on stories from the archives of Yad Vashem.  There was indeed a box car full of babies headed for a concentration camp.

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