About the Book:
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.
The book begins in the present day, with an old woman visiting a museum to see a circus train, and it is obvious she is doing more than looking at an artifact from someone else's life. The story then moves back in time to World War II and becomes the story of two young women.
Noa is Dutch, and became pregnant via an affair with a German soldier, so not only was she disgraced for her pregnancy, she was also one who consorted with the enemy. She gave birth in a Nazi maternity home and her child was put up for adoption. Since her parents had disowned her she had no place to go. While cleaning a railway station she saved a Jewish baby boy from almost certain death and then finds herself on the run to keep him secret.
The other young woman, Astrid, is a Jew who we meet as her husband, a Nazi officer, informs her that they must divorce. She is from a family that owns a circus and she returns to her parents' home, planning to re-join the circus. Unfortunately, she cannot find them. Fortunately the neighbors, who also own a circus, take her in and give her a false identity.
Noa eventually finds her way to the circus and the book is the story of the relationship between the two women, and their relationships with the men in their lives. Since the book is set during WWII, we know that the lives of Noa's "adopted" baby and Astrid are constantly in danger, as are the lives of those who knowingly harbor Jews.
The question running through my mind throughout the whole book of course was the identity of that old woman. Was she Astrid? Noa? One of their friends?
Pam Jenoff did a great job of capturing both the mundane parts of everyday life in the circus and the fear of discovery that permeated life for Noa and Astrid. We see the absolute evil in some Nazis and yet realize that others really are human, with good and bad. Set in wartime, it is a book that includes death and loss but in the end, there is hope.
I'd like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley. Grade: B+