Sunday, January 22, 2017

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


Title: The Orphan's Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Pages: 368 pgs
Publisher: Mira
Publishing Date: 21.02.2017

Apparently, 2017 will be the year of World War II novels. I was drawn to the premise of the book, and therefore I requested it hastily from Net Galley. When I started reading it, I didn't know exactly what to expect. There are so many WWII novels out there, and with each new one I read I learn something different. The same was with this one.

It starts with a prologue that ends symmetrically with the epilogue. Astrid is drawn to a museum exhibition presenting two hundred years of circus life. From that moment we learn about her life before the war broke out, about her marriage to a German officer and the end of their marriage, about her life after she joined the circus that saved her life. Mingled with her, we learn about Noa, a young Dutch girl who was shunned away by her family because of her mistakes. She too joins the circus Astrid works at, but with a child in tow, a child who is not her own. 

Told from a first person perspective, alternating between Astrid and Noa's perspectives, the novel reads very personally, and that is a big plus. The novel doesn't have any heart gripping moments that end badly, it all runs smoothly. However, from the first pages you are breathless as the two women's separate stories are told - there seems at all times something bad about to befall them. The whole novel is a long, heart rending moment. The seriousness of the novel and the curiosity to learn what happens next is what keeps you turning page after page. 

What was somewhat irking was how the author kept repeating some of the same words and kept pointing to their past hardships and their present and future uncertainties. Remembering the time the story was in, year 1945, it is understandable. It was just something that drew my attention as I read the novel. Maybe because I read it in big chunks at a time, this made it more visible. 

One thing that always disappoints is when I guess the ending. And make no mistake, I always try to guess the ending. However, this novel did not end as I expected. The Prologue did not give me any hints as who of the two women was speaking. At one point towards the end I was sure I knew how it will end. I was pleasantly surprised when it did not, in fact, end as I anticipated. Another plus for the book! 

I didn't have very high expectations when I started reading the novel, but every expectation was surpassed in a great way. I learned about the circus life during the Second World War, about the existence of great Jewish circus families, and about the double purpose of large circuses: to entertain and to shelter endangered runaways. 

4/5 stars

List of Characters (might contain spoilers!):
Astrid Sorrell (previously: Ingrid Klemt)
Erich - her husband
Noa Weil - Dutch 
Theo - the baby boy Noa saves, he's Jewish
Lucien - German young man Noa falls in love with
Peter - German, Astrid falls in love with his. they get married, she's pregnant with Peter's child. Peter - taken away by the Police because of his disrespectful attitude
Herr Neuhoff - circus owner
Emmet - Herr Neuhoff's son
Jules - Astrid's brother, he escapes Germany and lives in Florida, USA.

I received a free e-book copy of this novel from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

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