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Jenoff attended George Washington University and Cambridge University in the U.K., where she received a masters degree in history. Jenoff then received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. A former Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army and State Department officer, she lives in Philadelphia and currently teaches evidence, employment law, and legal writing at the Camden campus of Rutgers Law School.(R.1)
The story starts in the present day as Astrid, now an elderly woman, travels from America to the Paris opening of a contemporary museum exhibit that highlights "Two Hundred Years of Circus Magic." Behind the scenes at the museum she stumbles upon a parked, vintage railcar, featuring oddly constricted berths and a "belly box," or secret compartment. Shes been there before.
This opening teaser draws us back to wartime Germany, where a Dutch teenager is on the run, incognito. This is our second narrator, Noa, banished by her parents after an out-of-wedlock birth. She adopts away the poor nameless newborn, grieving her loss and being tormented by vivid visions of the child.
The shadow of World War II falls heavily over the action, and the murderous rampage of the Holocaust threatens all of the main characters. When a train rumbles through the station where she has found work, the baby-bereft Noa discovers new purpose in a way both horrifying and miraculous. One of the cars is packed full with Jewish infants, wholly lacking any adult presence, all starvelings bound for a concentration camp — a chilling, heartbreaking image, true to the time. Noa manages to break into the nursery-slash-cattle car and rescue a half-dead months-old child.
Jenoff has written a tribute to the human spirit that soars in the midst of epic despair.Jean Zimmerman"I am unfamiliar with infants [Jenoff writes in Noas voice] and I hold him at arms length now, like a dangerous animal. But he moves closer, nuzzling against my neck." Experiencing bouts of brooding that alternate with spasms of altruistic panic, Noa grabs the baby and makes a run for it.
After this breathless opening, Noas voice alternates with the older Astrid. The older woman had been married and living in Berlin, but her husbands loyalty to the Reich caused an abrupt break. Having lost her circus-proprietor parents to the war, and with Nazis occupying her ancestral home, Astrid signs on with a circus willing to disguise her Jewish identity.
Much of focuses on the testy relationship between naïve Noa, fiercely protective of the little boy she is mothering, and acerbic Astrid, whose tumultuous past leads her to trust no one. It is filled with engaging scenes of Noa learning to "fly" on a trapeze under Circus Neuhoffs aging, itinerant big top.
Noa is a novice, but she learns to overcome her fears and rely upon the stellar veteran Astrid. Telling details reveal circus life in the air and on the rails — every person, for example, is assigned two buckets to use for water, names emblazoned to lessen confusion. Such particulars are based in fact; Jenoff did ample research about real Jewish circus dynasties in the archives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and archive, as well as learning about the actual "Unknown Children" of that terrible boxcar.
Hounded by the Nazi menace, the Circus Neuhoff travels to a refuge in occupied France. Both Noa and Astrid find men whom they love and whom they must struggle to save. Through the darkness of war, the circus lights twinkle on, the circus family lives and loves and laughs, all while beautiful athletes fly high above the crowd. It may seem a bit too neat and Hallmarkian to some, but Jenoff has written a tribute to the human spirit that soars in the midst of epic despair.(R.2)
Highlights vs self- reflection:
1.p.107:There have been circuses from the time of the Romans and Greeks, our traditions centuries old. We had survived the Middle Ages, the Napoleonic wars, the Great War, We would survive this,too.
2.p.157: Do you know how many little stars are in blue heaven’s tent? Do you know how many clouds trail all over the world: The Lord God has counted them, so that none of them are missing, among this great vast amount.
3.p.150:It was not about the circus or family connections, but human decency.
4.p.302:The circus always leaves the address of its next destination behind for bill and other mail. So many stops along the way-the letter might have never reached me at all. But it had.
5.p.283:These days a person could be arrested for just about anything-or nothing at all.
6.p.283:It is not about joy now, though, but survival.
1.p.11 The compartment is empty and the dream I had that it might hold the answers evaporates like cool mist.
2.p.52:He is trying to make a duck into a swan and such a plan would only be met with failure.
3.p.54:Two innocents If we do not help them, they will surely die. I won’t have that on my hands.
4.p230:There is so little one can be certain of these days.
5.p.230:You make me believe again that good things were possible. I love you.
6.p.342:I let them lead me slowly from the museum, feeling the unseen hands that guide us.
7.p.346: Your constant leadership and vision are the beacons of light guiding my career.
8.p.234: The truth is that secrets don’t stay buried for long in the circus.
9.p.159: We cannot change who we are. Sooner or later we will all have to face ourselves.
10.p.281:Almost every day like clockwork.
11.p.80:Helpless as a calf about to be slaughtered.
12.p.89:A good magician never reveals her secrets.
1.Don’t pray for an easy life, pray for a strong person who will be trained by more tough tortures.
2. Concentration camp brings us hopeless feeling. But the beauty of the human nature couldn’t be killed forever.
The Orphan’s Tale by Clive:
Dear All: Due to we don’t have leader in Jan. 2020 meeting , may I hope whoever read the book - the orphan’s tale, is it possible if you would, can you write and send one or two questions to me, I can sort them into a list to discuss. I would also appreciate if anyone would offer this book’s summary, that would be great.
Great news, Clive will lead our January Book. He shoulders the responsibility.
Discussion Questions by Clive
Jenoff tells her tale through two alternating characters whose similarities and differences bring out the best and the worst in each. Noa is a troubled teenager from Holland whose pregnancy leads to her parents throwing her out. She seeks a means to support herself, and longs for the child she is forced to give up. Noa looks the perfect Aryan, but her baby does not. Her journey leads to the discovery of a boxcar filled with infants. One of the babies seems familiar to her. She takes him in her arms and can’t let go of it. After she discovers that the tiny boy is circumcised (meaning that the boy is Jewish) Noa finds a hiding place in a milk delivery truck and takes the baby with her. She is now a child with a child in a strange country where she seems to speak the same language and is able to develop acrobatic skills in mere chapters.
Astrid is closing in on forty years old. She is an accomplished circus aerialist (what we called a trapeze artist when I was a kid) who starred in her Jewish family’s circus for many years, then married a German officer. She and Erich shared a great passion that is drawn out over pages in romance novel details, but it could not outlive the pressures put upon him as a Nazi functionary. He turns against her, and she flees home to find that her family’s circus has gone (as though she would not have known that and her familial home is now some sort of housing for Nazis. The family’s gentile friend/circus competitor (conveniently living next door to her own family estate) Herr Neuhoff has been able to keep his circus going and inexplicably offers her a place doing what she did in her pre-marriage years.
Noa’s desperate flight takes her into the circus quarters, and she is soon trained to be part of the act in which Astrid is the star. Astrid, who has lost a child, becomes protective of Noa and the boy Noa passes off as her young brother.
Acts of caring, courage and cliché intertwine with those of cowardice and cruelty against the menacing backdrop of Nazi occupied Europe in this book. Jenoff has woven a story that combines the worst of Harlequin romance novels with the tragedy of hate of in the 20th century. I am not sure how the members felt about it, but I am very much looking forward to hearing about the thoughts of all the members.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for the orphan’s tale.
• Noa and Astrid’s rivalry changes into a close friendship despite significant differences in age and circumstances. How did this evolution happen? What do you think it was that drew them together? Have you ever found yourself in such a close but unlikely friendship?
Ingrid, close to 40 is a Jew married to a high-ranking Nazi Enrich at 29, it’s forbidden to have this marriage , Ingrid met Neuhoff and change her name to Astrid and join his circus to be the aerialist. German Noa was a cleaner at the train station. But her new-born baby with Reich is an uneheliches kind who was taken away, Noa stole a baby from the boxcar and fled to Neuhoff by accident. Noa starts to learn to be the trapeze. At the beginning, Astrid didn’t trust Noa’s past, she thought Noa lied to her about Theo. After Noa confess the truth, they started to have a better relationship.
In my life, I never saw who can die for us. But their relationship is so significant to scarify for others.
This story really surprises me, especially The circus owner Neuhoff is a german and wanna do so many things to help Jews.
• Who did you initially think was the narrator in the opening chapter? How did the opening chapter shape your reading experience?
It’s really amazing to start from the exhibition in the museum. All the horrible massacre be part of the art in deep mourning.
Noa is so great. Even she lost her baby, still try to help others and scarify her life to save Theo and Astrid. Astir is not easy to take care of Theo who become a doctor and keep help all the sufferer
Astrid is more defensive to others. But deep in her heart is so kind and helpful.
Human nature is more holly and great than the war.
Feel so inspired, Theo and Petra wanna help all the sufferer. Petra even back to Eastern Europe to help all the refugees. P.340:back to this part of the world from which we had world so hard to escape.
Circus is on fire, Noa is so brave to scarify herself. Neuhoff scarify himself to save Peter.
Firstly I want to say thank you for all the members who attended and the thoughts, observations and analysis that everyone offered. I know I was probably not the best person to lead this novel as the only man but I always enjoy being given a different perspective. All of the members who participated today are inspirational in their own way and I remain very thankful for being able to be a part of it when I can. Perhaps thankfulness is a nice theme for The Orphan’s Tale which is a long and sentimental journey but one ultimately of hope. It was clearly a book that was popular and why wouldn’t it be. It is a tale that is sad, bittersweet and one that is ultimately memorable. It was clear that the novel touched the heart of Carol, Emma, Florence and Sylvia. The good news is that while this novel touches on depressing topics, it has multiple moments of human love, strength and decency.
The two women who are the main characters share secrets and failures as people. The first is Astrid, a Jewish woman hiding and sheltered in a circus after being cast out from her marital home. The second character is Noa, a younger woman who was cast out from her home in the Netherlands when she became pregnant. When Noa stumbles into the care of the circus the two women forge a special relationship. They were both very strong, each in their own way, yet both are flawed both as characters, and as fleshed out people in a book. While it took them some time to come to an understanding, once they did they realize how much they need each other and how much each of them is involved in the other’s lives and secrets.
1.Pam Jenoff: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pam_Jenoff
2. The Orphan’s Tale Review: https://www.npr.org/2017/02/21/515433448/the-circus-is-a-glittering-wartime-refuge-in-the-orphans-tale
4.Lebensborn program: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebensborn
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