Book Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

If you’re looking for a book that is going to make you sweat with anticipation as you investigate cliffhangers at 3 a.m., this isn’t it. “The Orphan’s Tale,” however, is riveting in a unique kind of way through its poignant exploration of the human spirit. Though I wasn’t necessarily tempted to rip through the novel in hours, I found myself somehow deeply invested in the wellbeing of the characters to the point that I felt genuine sadness and joy for them–and these are often the best types of books.

Length: 342 pages

Genre: Historical fiction. (By far my favorite genre. I get to live in the here and now–why would I also want to constantly read about it?) I think a large part of my admiration for historical fiction lies in the painstaking research that I know backs it. Though I’ve contemplated writing my own novel someday, I’m not sure I would have the motivation to take on a work from time periods or places I have never experienced–every detail would be second-guessed. Pam Jenoff does such a beautiful job of making the reader feel as if they are living in 1940’s Europe. At the same time, the characters’ stories are so relatable that they don’t feel old, and that’s the power of the human condition right there.

Summary: “The Orphan’s Tale” is actually primarily about friendship (not quite what you might predict by looking at the cover). Jenoff writes the book toggling back and forth between the points of view of Noa and Astrid, two women who find sanctuary in the traveling circus during World War II in Germany/France. Though they are different in many ways–Noa a young German girl and Astrid a slightly older Jewish aerialist–the two grow close in an alluring way. I don’t want to give away too much, as the plot is really focused on uncovering the complexity of a person’s past. Separated from their families, these two cling to each other as they try to find love and light in a world of uncertainty and pain.

Why I loved it: I’m all about character development, and this book nailed it. Though I can appreciate a good love story, I really respect that this was not one–at least, not in the traditional sense. As these two women were separated from their families and lovers through tragedy, they had each other. It was the backbone of the entire story, and it was beautiful. I think friendship, such a simple and raw form of human love, can be seriously overlooked. I also loved the way Jenoff presented female strength in such opposing ways. Noa is timid and inexperienced, while Astrid is outspoken and intimidating–yet both of them are powerful and enduring. It’s important to isolate strength from its stereotypical form now and then.

My rating: 10 out of 10

I’ll be honest. I was expecting more gripping action from this novel (especially because of the cover), but for what it ended up being, it was magnificent. I found myself tearing up a bit at the end, so that speaks for itself. Overall, it was a charming story about the power of humanity in a crumbling world.

“She was beautiful.” “Beautiful,” I repeat. “In more ways than you will ever know, I think.”

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