The Girl They Left Behind (Review)

by Roxanne Veletzos

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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.

* * *

During WWII, Natalia is left at an orphanage when she is just a small child. She is adopted by an amazing set of parents. They truly want the best for her. When the Iron Curtain fell on Bucharest, their whole lives changed for the worst.

There is so much packed into this read. With the daily struggles just to survive, it is hard to read in places. Natalia is a talented pianist, but she ends up working in a warehouse just to support herself and her parents. Her parents lost everything during the Russian occupation. Their home, their business, their dignity, is all gone!

Victor is a rising star under the communist rule. He became a friend of this family back when he was a starving student. This friendship is Natalia’s saving grace in more ways than one. She is in love with Victor. And he loves her enough to set her free!

I fluctuated between 4 and 5 stars while I was reading this book. But the ending rolled it on up to 5. Talk about emotional whirlwind. I am not much of a cryer during books…but this one ALMOST succeeded in making me cry. Any author who can achieve that deserves 5 stars! And to know…it is based on the author’s family. Superbly done!

I received this novel from Atria Books via Netgalley.

Amazon Goodreads


Publication date: October 9, 2018
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
Language: English



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