The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff: 3/5 stars
I read a taster section of this book in the February Buzz Books Monthly from Netgalley and was immediately intrigued, so requested the full book. Overall, it’s still a good story, but not as captivating as the opening few chapters.
The setting of the book, in the circus was interesting and I really wanted to get an understanding of what it might have been like for showpeople in the Reich. I know that Roma and Sinti were targeted in the same way as Jews, and at least in the UK, there is some crossover between showpeople and those groups, so how did they fit? I didn’t really find out. The circus folk stayed away from the communities that they performed for, but I wasn’t really clear on whether this was because they always had, or because of the war.
Astrid/Ingrid was a very magnetic character. She’s one of those characters where even if she isn’t doing much in a scene, her thoughts and emotions are loud enough to almost take physical form. I liked her a lot and found her struggle to keep a lid on her feelings to protect herself and others really relatable. However, I did find that she tended to overpower the other main character, Noa. In what I think is supposed to be a two-hander, it quite often felt like the Astrid show, with Noa being reactive to Astrid rather than an independent person with her own decisions and motivations. I did find this a bit of a shame because she began as such a determined, brave and impulsive girl.
What I did like very much about The Orphan’s Tale was its examination of family. Who makes up your family and why? Is it possible to move on from your biological family to fully build a family of choice or will you always be trapped in the habits and expectations of how you grew up? These questions are played with but prescriptive answers aren’t given, because if there’s one thing that’s certain in the lives of these circus performers, it’s that there is no such thing as permanence. All you can do is make the best of the life you have.
As an aside, if you’re looking for a Mothers’ Day gift for a non traditional family setup, this might fit the bill. Despite the bleak setting in WW2 occupied territory, it celebrates the power of mothering and motherly love, whether it comes from a birth mother or other mother figure.