THE ORPHAN'S TALE: A NOVEL - Pam Jenoff
Germany and France - during WWII - 1944
In World War II Nazi occupied Europe, two young women find the strength of friendship and the power of love amidst the horrors of the German occupation.
Noa is a young Dutch girl left to bear her unborn child among strangers, hoping that the baby will become part of Hitler's Lebensborn program. (An effort by the Nazi's to breed a perfect race of blond, fair skinned children.) But instead of Noa's pale blond features, her son is born with olive skin and dark hair. He is taken away by the Germans, and Noa, now without a home, finds work at a train station where she lives in the back room. Her life changes one night, where, inside a railcar, Noa finds countless babies piled one atop the other. Thinking of her own lost child, she steals one away and escapes into the darkness.
Astrid, a Jewish aerialist in her family's circus, married a German soldier and moved to Berlin, only to get thrown aside by her husband, Erich, when Hitler decrees all soldiers of the Reich must divorce their Jewish wives. Astrid returns home to find German soldiers residing in their house. Where is her family? After inquiring of their whereabouts from next door competitor, Herr Neuhoff, Astrid takes a job as an aerialist in the Circus Neuhoff.
Peter, a Russian-born clown, soon becomes Astrid's lover. On the night he finds a young girl and a baby in the forest, he takes them immediately to Herr Neuhoff's villa. The circus owner offers Noa and the child (she says is her brother) shelter, then orders Astrid to train the girl as their new aerialist. They must be ready when their upcoming European tour begins. Herr Neuhoff tells Astrid she has only six weeks to instruct and train Noa to fly effortlessly through the air on the high trapeze. Astrid resents Herr Neuhoff's decree. She was born into the circus and has perfected her skills all of her life, how can she train a newcomer in such a short time?
Thus begins the story of Noa and Astrid, and their tenuous friendship as they travel with Herr Neuhoff's circus across Germany to the South of France. Noa and everyone in the circus must hide the baby she has named Theo. He is Jewish and circumcised, and thus a danger to the entire troupe if German soldiers examine him too closely during their inspections. As the days go by, Astrid begrudgingly trains Noa on the trapeze and keeps her secrets, just as Noa keeps Astrid's. Hiding in plain sight with forged papers among Herr Neuhoff's traveling circus is dangerous, but necessary. Tensions and fear escalate when Peter pokes fun at the German soldiers, antagonizing and belittling them during his act.
Finally, they set up the show near a small French village where Noa meets a young man named Lucienne, whom she later calls Luc as their romance blossoms. There, danger follows too, as Astrid sees one of her husband's associates in the crowd. How can he not recognize her? She is the Circus Neuhoff's star performer who cannot hide while swinging high above the crowd for all to see.
AN ORPHAN'S TALE tells a gritty and captivating story amid the atrocities of a horrible war. The fear that pulses through every character's soul day by day under the vigilant eyes of the German Reich is a constant presence in the lives of these people. Bound together by Fate or chance, Noa and Astrid each hold secrets that will surely rip their lives apart. Astrid, born Jewish and named Ingrid by her parents; and Noa, who stole a Jewish baby bound for a concentration camp, will lose everything if discovered by the Germans. Astrid is looking for her family, while, in contrast, Noa was cast aside by hers. The circus is populated with a host of well-drawn characters, nearly every one of them hiding from the Germans in plain sight.
AN ORPHAN'S TALE is a gritty novel of determination and strength that is spiked through with fear, passion, and deceit. This story comes alive and gives us a jolt of the reality in the daily struggles of those who were persecuted during World War II. A novel to remember, AN ORPHAN'S TALE is a great book!