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Review: The Circus Train by Amita Parikh

Title: The Circus Train

Author: Amita Parikh
Year published: 2022
Category: Adult fiction (historical)
Pages: 408 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map): Greece, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, India, and various European countries

SummaryLena 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 overprotectiveness and the limitations of her wheelchair.

Lena’s 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, she must confront her doubts and dare to believe in the impossible—herself.

A must-read for fans of The Night Circus and Water for Elephants, The Circus Train will take readers on a heart-rending and spectacular two-decade journey across Europe. When all is lost, how do you find the courage to keep moving forward?

Review: I feel like I haven't read historical fiction for a while so was looking forward to this one. It was less historical fiction than I expected, but I still liked it.

The characters are all ones that I liked and bought into wanting them to do well and be successful. Lena is a strong young woman who has ambitions beyond those that society expects and accepts for her. I thought the process of her dealing with polio's affects and the therapies they tried on her were interesting, especially when I found out in the Author's After Word that they were all accurate for the time. I also liked Alexandre and the struggles he has transitioning from his life with his family to one with the circus. Theo, the doting father feels like a stabilizing force through much of the novel.

For readers who feel they have read too many World War II novels, this one is vastly different from any other that I have read. The war doesn't even happen until half way through the novel and the war, Nazis, and Theresienstadt make up only a small part of the story. They are more of a description of the time and place rather than a main character.

I am not a circus fan. I feel bad for the animals, don't love clowns, and think of them as sad affairs for the most part. However, this novel focuses on the lives of a few of the performers who are illusionists rather than the circus acts themselves so it worked for me.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Alphabet (Title)--C
  • Literary Escapes--Czech Republic and Greece

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