The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

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The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Another action-packed, nerve jingling tale from one of the top specialists in World War II historical/romantic fiction. This time help from Jews in need of refuge comes in an unusual form. Beautifully told and nail-bitingly real.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2017
Publisher: HQ
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848455368

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Herr Neuroff's circus has a secret: as well as a much needed wartime source of entertainment, it's also refuge to Jews escaping uncertain concentration camp fates. One such person, Astrid, a trapeze and high wire artist, lives a precarious life in which her possible discovery would be more dangerous than her nightly act. She's an expert who has perfected her art over time and therefore resents Neuroff demanding she teach Noa, a non-circus family new comer, quickly. There's a reason behind the circus owner's demand though. Noa arrives at the circus endangered by an act of kindness: a Jewish baby she stole from a Nazi train before leaving the Netherlands. It was a spur of the moment decision that will bind her to Astrid and their future, no matter how long… or short… a time that may be.

Over the years Pam Jenoff has carved herself a well-deserved niche when it comes to stories set in and around the Second World War, as proven by her acclaimed debut The Kommandant's Girl. This time Pam has been inspired by the true story of the rescuer's circus she came across at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Memorial Centre. The real life Neuroff was Adolf Althoff who was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1995 for his devotion and bravery. Pam stresses that her book is a work of fiction so certain liberties have been taken, but this novel is a tribute to him and others like him in the circus world.

Pam always brings us strong characters and Astrid and Noa are no exceptions. Both women had experienced tragedy before joining the circus. Noa was thrown out of her family for a naïve teenage pregnancy; a cruel act and a cruel outcome by today's standards. However it does give us an opportunity to witness the dark world of Nazi eugenics.

Meanwhile Astrid had been married to a Nazi officer who threw her out in accordance with legislation, letting an illogical racial law delete years of apparent love.

Noa may not be Jewish but it doesn't make her feel less of an outsider. The circus is bound by years of tradition and community, acts being passed through families and children contributing at a very early age. Therefore her welcome into circus life isn't universal, making the attentions of Luc, a local French man, extremely attractive. Yet more danger lurks here: Luc's family aren't all as pure as the driven snow so is he also hiding something?

Astrid also has her partner: Peter, a Russian clown. Astrid believes he's a comfort and convenience more than a romance, but when problems start cascading, will she have cause to reconsider?

Actually 'problems' is an understatement. As we head towards the climax perils start to drip onto the circus and then fall in a cascade of nail-biting suspense. The fact we've come to know the women really well in their alternating point of view chapters creates audible gasps (or was that just me?) to accompany some spine chilling moments.

In the end we realise that this is as unpredictable a story as it is one bearing a fitting tribute. For some unknown reason the rescue circuses of the war have remained in an undeserved silent siding up until now. Hopefully, thanks to people like Pam, their days of obscurity are now over.

(Thank you so much, HQ, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like more of the wonderful Ms Jenoff, we heartily recommend The Things We Cherished. If you'd like to read more of the courage and fear associated with Jewish survival during World War II, we just as ardently urge you towards Noah's Child by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

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Buy The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff at


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