The Orphan’s Tale
by Pam Jenoff
The Orphan’s Tale is the story of two women in the middle of World War II. Noa, a sixteen-year-old girl who was thrown out by her family after her affair with a German officer resulted in a pregnancy, has recently had her baby taken from her. When she sees a boxcar full of Jewish babies being sent to their death, she rescues one and flees. She eventually finds shelter with a traveling circus and begins training for the flying trapeze under Astrid, the lead aerialist in the circus and a Jew. At first, Astrid holds feelings of great enmity towards Noa, but soon they form a strong bond. But the shelter that once offered them protection against the Nazis grows thinner each day, and the secrets Noa holds between them threatens to tear them apart forever.
When I go to the library, I usually check out the “Librarian’s Choice” tables to find out what other people read and like. This is where I spotted The Orphan’s Tale, and I was immediately drawn by the title. As I mentioned in an earlier review, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I especially like stories that take place during a war. The Orphan’s Tale is precisely that.
The book alternates between Noa’s and Astrid’s point of view, written in first person for both of them. The author chooses to write in present tense. I am usually not a big fan of books written in present tense. To me, it makes the writing less elegant and clumsier and takes away some of its grace. Many people, however, prefer this style as it makes it seem as if the story is occurring in real time and could be more engaging.
I believe the author is trying to highlight the fact that Noa and Astrid are at once different yet similar. Astrid is older and more mature, while Noa is young and rather weak in comparison. She is laden with fears and more prone to worry. In addition, she lacks the ability to control her emotions and desires, even when they could end up bringing harm to others. This makes her a less likable character than she could have been. However, they have both suffered through their share of hardships, and this is part of what draws them together.
There is a rather detailed sexual scene in chapter 7 that young readers should avoid. Another incident is strongly hinted at in chapter 3, and a third in chapter 17, but nothing is described. There is no foul language used in this book.
For me, the story puts a little too much emphasis on the emotions of the characters, but it wasn’t so sentimental as to prevent me from enjoying the book. The fact that both Noa and Astrid were hiding deadly secrets from the Germans makes the story more interesting. Astrid is a Jew and is forced to hide every time the Nazis come to perform their inspection, while Noa has a young Jewish child she must keep out of the Germans’ sight. I think the setting – the circus – gives the book a different feel, a slightly more exotic one that I liked. I would recommend this book for an older and more mature audience because of the inappropriate scenes mentioned above and also the possible maturity of the theme. It focuses mostly on the relationship between Noa and Astrid, but also brings in some romantic feelings between the two women and the men they love. Younger readers may not completely understand or appreciate the complexities of the emotions involved, but if parents feel comfortable allowing their younger children to read it, I believe they could still enjoy it – without reading the sexual scenes.