AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 21ST, 2017
The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and sacrifice, set in a traveling circus during World War II, by international bestselling author Pam Jenoff.
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.
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They will be looking for me by now.
I pause on the granite steps of the museum, reaching for the railing to steady myself. Pain, sharper than ever, creaks through my left hip, not perfectly healed from last year’s break. Across the Avenue Winston Churchill, behind the glass dome of the Grand Palais, the March sky is rosy at dusk.
I peer around the edge of the arched entranceway of the Petit Palais. From the massive stone columns hangs a red banner two stories high: Deux Cents ans de Magie du Cirque—Two Hundred Years of Circus Magic. It is festooned with elephants, a tiger and a clown, their colors so much brighter in my memories.
I should have told someone I was going. They would have only tried to stop me, though. My escape, months in the planning since I’d read about the upcoming exhibit in the Times, had been well orchestrated: I had bribed an aide at the nursing home to take the photo I needed to mail to the passport office, paid for the plane ticket in cash. I’d almost been caught when the taxicab I’d called pulled up in front of the home in the predawn darkness and honked loudly. But the guard at the desk remained asleep.
Summoning my strength now, I begin to climb again, taking each painful step one by one. Inside the lobby, the opening gala is already in full swing, clusters of men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns mingling beneath the elaborately painted dome ceiling. Conversations in French bubble around me like a long-forgotten perfume I am desperate to inhale. Familiar words trickle back, first in a stream then a river, though I’ve scarcely heard them in half a century.
I do not stop at the reception desk to check in; they are not expecting me. Instead, dodging the butlered hors d’oeuvres and champagne, I make my way along the mosaic floors, past walls of murals to the circus exhibit, its entrance marked by a smaller version of the banner outside. There are photos blown up and hung from the ceiling by wire too fine to see, images of a sword swallower and dancing horses and still more clowns. From the labels below each picture, the names come back to me like a song: Lorch, D’Augny, Neuhoff—great European circus dynasties felled by war and time. At the last of these names, my eyes begin to burn.
Beyond the photos hangs a tall, worn placard of a woman suspended from silk ropes by her arms, one leg extended behind her in a midair arabesque. Her youthful face and body are barely recognizable to me. In my mind, the song of the carousel begins to play tinny and faint like a music box. I feel the searing heat of the lights, so hot it could almost peel off my skin. A flying trapeze hangs above the exhibit, fixed as if in midflight. Even now, my almost ninety-year-old legs ache with yearning to climb up there.
But there is no time for memories. Getting here took longer than I thought, like everything else these days, and there isn’t a minute to spare. Pushing down the lump in my throat, I press forward, past the costumes and headdresses, artifacts of a lost civilization. Finally, I reach the railcar. Some of the side panels have been removed to reveal the close, tiny berths inside. I am struck by the compact size, less than half my shared room at the nursing home. It had seemed so much larger in my mind. Had we really lived in there for months on end? I reach out my hand to touch the rotting wood. Though I had known the railcar was the same the minute I had seen it in the paper, some piece of my heart had been too afraid to believe it until now.
Voices grow louder behind me. I glance quickly over my shoulder. The reception is breaking up and the attendees drawing closer to the exhibit. In a few more minutes, it will be too late.
I look back once more, then crouch to slip beneath the roped stanchion. Hide, a voice seems to say, the long-buried instinct rising up in me once more. Instead, I run my hand under the bottom of the railcar. The compartment is there, exactly as I remembered. The door still sticks, but if I press on it just so… It snaps open and I imagine the rush of excitement of a young girl looking for a scribbled invitation to a secret rendezvous.
But as I reach inside, my fingers close around cold, dark space. The compartment is empty and the dream I had that it might hold the answers evaporates like cool mist.