Date Finished: January 15, 2017
Published; February 21, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
You might enjoy this book if you like: Novels about women in World War II, Novels about circus life, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Seventeen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier during the occupation of her native Holland. Heartbroken over the loss of the baby she was forced to give up for adoption, she lives above a small German rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep.
When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants, unknown children ripped from their parents and headed for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the baby that was taken from her. In a moment that will change the course of her life, she steals one of the babies and flees into the snowy night, where she is rescued by a German circus.
The circus owner offers to teach Noa 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 unlikely friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.
Every time I think I'm done with World War II fiction, another title comes along that pulls me back in. I've enjoyed Pam Jenoff's books in the past and this premise intrigued me, so I was back down the WWII rabbit hole.
Other than some backstory and a few events in the lat half of the novel, most of the action in this novel is set apart from the realities of the war. This doesn't mean that the war doesn't play a part--it is very much in every word in this novel--but it does give a different view of events. Personally, I prefer war novels that focus on the lives of "ordinary" people instead of the politicians and soldiers.
I was immediately taken with both Noa and Astrid's stories. Jenoff excellently gives them ample story without spending pages trying to catch the reader up with everything that happened in their life up to that point I will admit that I found Astrid's story to be more compelling. I felt that Jenoff dove deeper into her past issues and made her a more nuanced character.
This novel is excellently paced. It picks up speed as it goes along and climaxes at just the right moment for the full effect. Also, on a smaller note, the way Jenoff wrote the trapeze passages are perfect--I felt my palms beginning to sweat every time Noa climbed the ladder. It takes great skill to evoke an actual physical response from prose.
So, here is my big complaint with this book. Like so many other novels, this is a dual-narrative story, which is something with which I have a love/hate relationship. When it works, it is wonderful...when it doesn't, it really hampers my experience of the book. Unfortunately, this book falls into the latter category. The key to a successful dual- or multi-narrative story is for each narrator to have a different voice I need to be able to tell that each narrator is a distinct entity. Noa and Astrid have the exact same voice here--there were many times when I would have to put the book down for various reasons (I have young kids...interruptions are frequent!) and, when I got back to the book, I had no clue who the narrator was. Even on the few occasions that I was able to read without interruptions, the two narratives started to bleed together.
It's unfortunate that the narrative issue impacted my experience so much. However, this may not bother other readers. My advice would be that, if the indistinct voices are something that wouldn't bother you, to give this book a try. It has so much going for it and, if you can overlook one drawback, you will enjoy it.
Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.
Connect with Pam at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
I was given an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.