When my grandma was just a young teenager, her family fled the war-torn lands of Europe for the more hope-filled promises of America. She saw and did things that are unfathomable to me, even as an adult! As my own children now approach the age she was when she walked out of her home and away from everything she’d ever known for the last time, I’m in awe of her strength, determination, and bravery. I sympathize with my great-grandma and the fear she must have felt at leading her children through unknown trials – knowing they very well may meet a fate she had no control over. How could she protect her four children and get them across an ocean to eventual safety? I believe this is where faith must come in – a belief in the unknown to have a hand of protection over yourself and your loved ones. And in fact, they were some of the lucky ones. Every one of their family members made it safely to America where they each went on to live happy and full lives.
Because of my grandma’s history, I have always been drawn to any book set in the WWII era. I buy them – regardless of their plot lines just wanting to soak up pieces of that life my grandma once knew. I bought The Orphan’s Tale (by Pam Jenoff) quite some time ago and it has sat on my shelf, beckoning me, yet the timing just never seemed quite right. When it was picked by my local book club, I was excited to finally make the time to read it.
As I mentioned, I didn’t read the synopsis so I was quite surprised to find out what the book actually was about. (If you don’t want to be like me, you can read the full synopsis here.) This story’s plot largely revolves around the circus – which I wasn’t expecting at all.
(Sidenote: I mean, call me crazy, but I was almost certain it was about an orphan! And it was, but Theo (the orphan) was not the main theme of the book…Noa and Astrid were.)
Noa and Astrid both find refuge in the circus that continues to travel across Europe while the Nazis are further advancing their agenda across the same parts of the country. The Nazis allow it because it provides a distraction from what they’re doing and allows the spectators to forget ‘real life’ for just a little while. What isn’t known is that the circus’ ringleader is knowingly hiding and protecting some Jews from the Nazis within his company. This puts all of the circus members in danger as they travel to towns that are increasingly hostile and unsafe to Jews. Both hiding secrets of their own, Noa and Astrid form a quick alliance and eventually put everything on the line for one another. It’s a beautiful friendship that is given the ultimate test.
The plot is engaging and interesting and I found myself very attached and concerned for the characters. I was rooting for a happy ending for all of them! The ending wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was beautifully tragic. Overall, I enjoyed the story and I’m glad I finally got a chance to read it!