Two lives collide in a world of secrets.
But one secret greater than them all.
Is about to tear them apart . . .
At the World of Wonders, Europe’s most magnificent travelling circus, every moment is full of magic, and nothing is as it seems-especially for the people who put on the show.
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 yearns for the real-world magic of science and medicine, despite her father’s overprotection and the limitations of her wheelchair. Her unconventional life takes an exciting turn when she rescues Alexandre, an orphan with his own secrets and a mysterious past.
Over several years, as their friendship flourishes and Alexandre trains as the illusionist’s apprentice, World War II escalates around them. When Theo and Alexandre are contracted to work and perform in a model town for Jews set up by the Nazis, Lena becomes separated from everything she knows. Forced to make her own way, Lena must confront her doubts and dare to believe in the impossible-herself.
Amita Parikh’s The Night Circus is a grand tale of a family separated across Europe by war.
The novel is led by the wonderous and intelligent Lena, disabled from birth by polio and underestimated by just about everyone around her. She and her father, an illusionist, are travelling with their circus in Amsterdam when a young Jewish boy, Alexandre, seeks refuge in their train. Soon, Lena and Alexandre form a strong friendship and then, eventually, a romance. But in the background, war is building, and Alexandre is not the only character that finds themselves in danger.
“The war, Theo told them, was a grave one, but it hadn’t yet spread south. Greece declared neutrality and Thessaloniki, at least to Lena, still felt like the home she always returned to each year.”
Amita should be commended for her remarkable research and attention to detail. The story spans decades, during such a pivotal moment in history, and the author has done a great job capturing the atmosphere of Europe during WWII, but also capturing Lena’s disability and the life of circus performers during this era.
The atmosphere is another one of the major strengths in the novel. The reader is immersed in a world of magic and intrigue, a mesmerising circus of wonder, where all are welcome – all shapes, sizes, heights, bodies, orientations. There is an impending doom looming under the surface, but until that threat hits, the reader feels comfortable in the story with these characters. Lena’s father Theo is a particular favourite of mine – headstrong and determined, but also incredibly caring.
“By the spring of 1940, Alexandre could do the cup-and-balls trick, the dove-pan illusion, the disappearing-penny act, and the French drop. At Horace’s request, he appeared before each performance in the lobby, along with four other cast members.”
Whilst the romantic element of the story feels a bit undeveloped and then subsequently wraps up far too quickly at the end to be believable, The Circus Train is a fantastic historical novel. The characters are all three-dimensional and well-crafted, and even the secondary characters shine through the pages.
As the story progresses and Lena finds herself separated from Alexandre and also her father, it allows her to pursue dreams she’d been putting on hold. She dreams of walking unassisted and attending medical school – both of these seem next to impossible, especially given Lena’s disability. Her father, in particular, was hesitant about Lena attending medical school but accepting their fates means Lena must re-focus her energy on her career and her health.
“Lena nodded. She still didn’t understand why Horace didn’t like Jewish people, but she wanted Alexandre to stay on board as long as he could. There was no chance of her saying anything to jeopardise that.”
A sweeping and charming tale of magic and hope amidst the backdrop of WWII, The Circus Train is for readers of historical fiction and war sagas. The carnivalesque setting will attract many readers. Readership skews 20+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Circus Train
Hachette Book Publishers