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.
Naturally this is another book where apparently my rating/opinion doesn't line up with the popular one.
The plot sounds addictive, and it even involved a circus - hard to go wrong with that. As morbid as the subject is, I enjoy reading historical stories focusing on World War II and the horrible time in human history we must never forget and keep (hopefully) learning from. Told through two main points of view, the ambitious story focuses on one woman who lost a child and reclaimed a new one when she runs into a new future, and another woman who is living in the present, hiding from her past, and refusing to think about the future.
The biggest obstacle for me was the writing style. I have little chemistry with it. While I'm one of those readers who actually prefers introspective first person point of view, I'm not a fan when it's a dual first person point of view because it makes little sense to me. Even if the chapters helpfully declare in big font who the viewpoint will be in each chapter, I still tend to forget when wrapped up in the story. Either do first person point of view only, or do third person.
The second writing issue was it was strangely told in first-person point of view present style. Writing is almost always past style. When it's present like this it gets more of a dramatic feel, but that can also make it feel false and too much like reading a book instead of becoming sucked into it. An exception is the very beginning where the story is opening before a character glimpses into the past. First person present style has to be done carefully.
Plot-wise it wasn't bad, especially since I enjoy circus tales, but there were a lot of unrealistic elements. I doubt she would have been able to nab the baby so easily, although it's possible. With how much Peter had to depend on not getting into trouble, I'm stunned he dared his act later. The money suddenly appearing was a little too good to be true. One main character having a hidden talent as a natural of a rare ability in the circus was stretching it. Another character solving a mystery at the end because of a surprise painting...again, very unlikely. One or two I can accept, but add it all together and it's a little too contrived.
On the plus side, it was unique and not a story I've read before. The circus isn't visited nearly enough in fiction, so combining the hostile elements of world war II with hiding in the circus was a good idea.
“Why are we so hard on one another? I wonder. Hadn’t the world already given us challenges enough?”