Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
First Published: February 21, 2017
First Line: Paris - "They will be looking for me now."
Book Description from GoodReads: A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .
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.
My Rating: 3 stars
My Review: I'm an avid reader of Historical Fiction, especially books that focus on WWII. So, I eagerly jumped at the chance to read this book.
The premise was enticing but overall my feeling about the book could be summed up as 'interested by not invested'. The book is narrated by Astrid and Noa whose personalities and life experiences are quite different. Astrid was a strong main character. She's lived through a lot, she's broken and tough nut to crack. This is in complete contrast to teenage Noa who was overly naive to the point that it was grating. She never thinks things through, claims to love baby Theo yet pawns him off at every opportunity and never seems to struggle with his care even though she has no prior experience and has a new job as a trapeze artist. I just didn't connect with her on any level.
This book features a group of people who are trying to escape the Nazis' wrath. This was a dangerous, turbulent time but the war seemed to be just a backdrop to the drama between the characters. Besides the moment when the babies are found in the boxcar (an emotional moment for me - which is described in the book summary), it wasn't as gritty, emotional or tension-filled as I had expected for a book set during WWII. Instead the focus was on the romantic entanglements (one of which came about too quickly to be believable) and melodrama between the characters.
And yet this book continued to hold my interest enough for me to continue and find out how things end for this band of misfits. I think the premise was unique and thought the epilogue was quite interesting as Jenoff explains how she came up with the premise of her book based on historical details.
The secondary characters were a unique bunch but I wish that they had been used more within the story. For example, the circus master's son was written as a potential bad guy but barely used; the older Jewish man's perspective would have been a benefit to the plot but his story wasn't explored, and the Circus Master's life, as he struggles to keep his circus afloat and help those running from the Nazis, was only hinted at. With the secondary characters' minimal lines and involvement, it was hard for readers to get to know them well enough to care about them.
This book had great promise and was touted as a mixture of "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah and "Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen. Those are some big shoes to fill and while I think the premise was solid, I found the execution weaker than expected. It started off as a vivid, emotional Historical Fiction read but as the book progressed it became more about the relationships of Astrid and Noa giving the book a lighter Historical Romance feel that happened to be set during WWII. A good read just not as gritty as I had expected. This is a story about survival and family in various forms. With more tension and connection to the characters I would have given this book a higher rating. For people looking for a lighter Historical Fiction read this book is right up your alley.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Harlequin and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.