Book Review: The Circus Train by Amita Parikh

“If you think about it, life is like one long maze. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes we get stuck. But if you persist, if you can find it within you to endure the hardships, you will reach your goal.”

Amita Parikh, The Circus Train

Title: The Circus Train
Author: Amita Parikh
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 395 (Hardcover)
Published: January 12th, 2022

My Rating: ★★★½
Read: 5/28/2023 – 6/3/2023


Before reading, I saw a lot of hype for this book. I get nervous when this happens because more often than not my reading tastes aren’t similar to other readers in my various online social circles. I was relieved to see such exquisite writing when I finally opened it up. Though this wasn’t a five-star read for me personally, the hype is understandable.

All Lena has ever known is the traveling circus where her father Theo performs as an illusionist. Lena was left unable to walk by a contracted bought of Polio as an infant. Her spirit and desire to live a better-abled life are strong. Eventually, she attempts a new form of treatment to try and recover the use of her legs.

Meanwhile, it’s the early days of World War II. Theo and Lena take in a Jewish boy Alexandre. He’s Lena’s first friend and companion her age. As the war carries on, she ends up separated from them. Though she always wished for the freedom to do what she wishes without her father’s constant fretting and concern for her wellbeing, she never would have wished for him to be taken away.

As much as I loved the writing and a great deal of the story, I also felt like some parts were unrealistic. There was also a love of distinct plotlines going on throughout the book. For me, the polio plot was strong enough to stand alone without the addition of the war. It shifted the focus too much late in the book and it felt like a completely different story than the one I started.

My quips aside, I cannot compliment the beautiful writing enough. The opening pages took me in immediately. I’m insanely impressed given The Circus Train is the author’s debut novel.

Likes & Dislikes:

What I liked:

  • Beautiful writing.
  • Lovely and complex characters.
  • A hint of mystery.

What I didn’t like:

  • The characters’ voices were too modern (I’ll elaborate in the ‘afterthoughts’ section).
  • Too many distinct plots that could have been separate books.


An example of the characters having a modern voice: There is a section of the story where Theo scolds Lena (partly over something that wouldn’t have been as punishable in that time and region if at all) and tells her she’s grounded. Grounding is a relatively new concept that gained popularity in the mid-20th century after the events of the book. Not only that, when I discussed this in an international group, I learned that grounding is a Western practice not used if heard of at all in many parts of the world. This wasn’t the only moment like this which is the only reason I’m mentioning it at length. This was the one that stood out to me the most but the frequency of these occurrences kept pulling me out of the story. In this case, I don’t believe it was intentional, but in general, there seems to be a trend of historical fiction characters written to be contemporary be it their attitudes, attitudes, lingo, or their outlooks on the world entirely.

Where to buy the book:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: