The Circus Train
by Amita Parikh
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Pub Date 06 Dec 2022 | Archive Date 28 Feb 2023
PENGUIN GROUP Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons
Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in this World War II debut about a magnificent travelling circus, a star-crossed romance, and one girl’s coming-of-age during the darkest of times.
“A powerful reminder that to live is not just to survive, but to be seen and known for ourselves.” —Pam Jenoff, author of The Orphan’s Tale
When all is lost, how do you find the courage to keep moving forward?
1938. Lena Papadopoulos has never quite found her place within the circus, even as the daughter of the extraordinary headlining illusionist, Theo. Brilliant and curious, Lena—who uses a wheelchair after a childhood bout with polio—yearns for the real-world magic of science and medicine, her mind stronger than the limitations placed on her by society. Then her unconventional life takes an exciting turn when she rescues Alexandre, an orphan with his own secrets and a mysterious past.
As World War II escalates around them, their friendship blossoms into something deeper while Alexandre trains as the illusionist’s apprentice. But when Theo and Alexandre are arrested and made to perform in a town for Jews set up by the Nazis, Lena is separated from everything she knows. Forced to make her own way, Lena must confront her doubts and dare to believe in the impossible—herself.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 330 members
Wow! This was a beautiful book! This is unlike any WW2 fiction that I have read in a long time. It was unexpected and kept my attention from start to finish.
In Amita Parikh’s The Circus Train, readers are invited aboard the World of Wonders, a dazzling traveling circus that tours across Europe in the years before and during WWII. This circus contains beauty and betrayal, magic and mystery, loneliness and light. On board, we are introduced to the story’s heroine, Helena (Lena) Papadopoulos and her father, Theo, a master illusionist. Lena is disabled due to contracting Polio as an infant, and we watch her struggle with both her physical limitations and loneliness. But like many of our most difficult challenges, we see strength emerge and transformation occur. “While the other cast members rehearsed, Lena sat patiently, poring over her box of assorted objects and drawings, dreaming up ways to manipulate time, thinking of what it would be like to traverse the constellations on foot, imagining the feeling of weightlessness in diving to the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Science, and the realm of possibilities it represented, became her world.”
She finds friendship, encouragement and love in Alexandre, a Jewish orphan a few years her senior, who she finds after he boards the train on the run from his past. Alexandre, who possesses a talent for sleight-of-hand maneuvers, is taken in and trained as Theo’s apprentice. As the train and history twists and turns into World War II we watch trouble unfold and paths diverge as Lena, Theo and Alexandre are thrust into different environments, only to reunite a decade later.
These characters are extremely relatable and likable, packed with the messy mix of weakness and strength found in us all. We see them each deal with their pasts in different ways and root for them to heal and triumph. As Lena grows older and has moved on from life in the World of Wonders, Parikh pens this poignant truth about time and healing, “Lena had learned that the passage of time did something strange to memories. Ever so slowly it chipped away at the most painful parts, smudging the hurt and softening the aches, to the point that she could now almost reminisce about her childhood in a fond manner, not always stuck on the parts that hurt.” Parikh’s writing is flowing, both with action and feeling, and I found myself not wanting this journey to end. In this debut novel, she delivers a solid narrative of history and entertainment and her notes at the end about the actual people and places in the story added to its meaning. I anxiously await another ride into her next world of wonder.
Thank you to NetGally and Penguin Group Putnam for a DRC in exchange for my honest review.
This book was an incredible read. With much of the book taking place on a traveling circus, the story has elements of mystery and magic that made it captivating from the very start. As the story unfolds, the richness of the plot becomes clear, exploring the relationships between a father and daughter, the daughter and a young Jewish boy, the friendships of those on the train, with world war 2 as a historical backdrop.
This was such a unique book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I would highly recommend this for those that enjoy historical fiction.
Amita Parikh's Circus Train draws you into an exotic recipe of delightfully complex and captivating characters, seasoned with Indian wisdom and a bit of magic with interesting parallels throughout. A story that will be savored long after it is read and hungry for her next novel.