From the publisher
A sweeping family saga and love story that offers a vivid and unique portrayal of life in war-torn 1941 Bucharest and life behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet Union occupation—perfect for fans of Lilac Girls and Sarah’s Key.
On a freezing night in January 1941, a little Jewish girl is found on the steps of an apartment building in Bucharest. With Romania recently allied with the Nazis, the Jewish population is in grave danger, undergoing increasingly violent persecution. The girl is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by a wealthy childless couple who name her Natalia. As she assimilates into her new life, she all but forgets the parents who were forced to leave her behind. They are even further from her mind when Romania falls under Soviet occupation.
Yet, as Natalia comes of age in a bleak and hopeless world, traces of her identity pierce the surface of her everyday life, leading gradually to a discovery that will change her destiny. She has a secret crush on Victor, an intense young man who as an impoverished student befriended her family long ago. Years later, when Natalia is in her early twenties and working at a warehouse packing fruit, she and Victor, now an important official in the Communist regime, cross paths again. This time they are fatefully drawn into a passionate affair despite the obstacles swirling around them and Victor’s dark secrets.
When Natalia is suddenly offered a one-time chance at freedom, Victor is determined to help her escape, even if it means losing her. Natalia must make an agonizing decision: remain in Bucharest with her beloved adoptive parents and the man she has come to love, or seize the chance to finally live life on her own terms, and to confront the painful enigma of her past.
Natalia’s story is engrossing from the very first paragraph where author Roxanne Veletzos paints an emotional scene showing an innocent three-year old sitting in the cold, dark Romanian winter, trusting that the parents who said they will return will actually keep their promise. It is a rarely-told story of abandonment, of those who were given up to shield them from the ravages of war and of the destiny that followed them even after those would have protected them with their lives were forced to leave them to other caretakers. The story is even that more gripping because it is a novelized account of real events, one that inspired many tears and deep sighs at the turns this life took. I enjoyed the fact that the girl at the center of the story is the author’s mother and I appreciated even more the emotional adaptation that Veletzos wrote to honor her mother’s experiences but also keep the reader guessing about which parts are true and which parts aren’t.
The story was told in split narrative following the abandoned child who is later named Natalia, the parents that are forced to flee to protect her, and both their caretakers – those who look after the child and those who help keep the parents safe through the ravages of World War II. The historical references are intriguing and the author awakened a curiosity for learning more about the Nazi occupation in Romania and the 1941 Bucharest Pogrom which seems to be a lesser-known incident in the Holocaust.
Elements of this book reminded me of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl and Art Spiegelman’s Maus and even Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad
- Title: The Girl They Left Behind
- Author: Roxanne Veletzos
- Format: Hardcover
- Pages: 353
Note: I received a free copy of The Girl They Left Behind from the publisher in order to provide this review. All opinions are my own.