The Orphan’s Tale

Written by Pam Jenoff
Review by Jeanne Greene

One of the last circuses operating in Europe in 1944, the Neuhoff Circus travels by rail across German-occupied territory, where hiring Jews is illegal. As Herr Neuhoff, the circus owner, prepares for what may be his last tour, he is forced to decide the fate of Jews hiding on his train.

Astrid, renounced for being Jewish by her German husband, begs Herr Neuhoff, who knows she was once a trapeze artist, to hide her. Then Noa is found half-frozen in the snow, cradling a Jewish infant. Unable to protect them if German police inspect the train, Herr Neuhoff decides to hide the two women in plain sight: Astrid, 28, must teach Noa the trapeze well enough to convince an audience. Noa, 19, is terrified. She doesn’t trust Astrid to catch her. But Astrid can’t teach Noa if she won’t let go. Noa and Astrid work on the trapeze every spare minute, Noa hating it, Astrid losing patience. Astrid has a lover on board, which encourages lonely Noa to risk involvement with a mayor’s son. What if he betrays them to the authorities? The train is full of frightened people. Is the circus manager harboring other Jews? Although Astrid and Noa, as women, share the constant danger they are destined for very different fates—unless Noa learns to fly.

Jenoff (The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach, 2015) has created characters—a Dutch teenager and a young Jewish woman—who approach a dangerous challenge from very different perspectives. Alternating chapters narrated by Noa and Astrid adds another layer of suspense to the plot. Fans of romantic suspense or European circus history will enjoy The Orphan’s Tale.