The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos
Reviewed by: Becky Houghton, Reference Assistant
Genre: Historical Fiction
Suggested Age: Teens, Adults
What is this Book About? It is 1941 in Bucharest Romania and the government has collapsed. Romanian Jews are being rounded up, tortured and murdered by the thousands. A young Jewish couple is forced to make the heart-wrenching decision to leave their three year old daughter behind in order to save her as they flee this humanitarian crisis. This young girl was the author’s mother. What follows is a fictionalized version of Veletzos’ mother’s life although the basic story is true. The child, Natalia, was adopted and named by Christian parents in Romania and raised as their daughter during the second World War, the later Russian occupation, and Romania’s transition to communism. This book is an eye-opening look into the lives of Romanians during this tumultuous period.
My Review: I actually liked this book. Roxanne Veletzos is good storyteller and her personal involvement in her tale gives it a poignancy that is not always present in historical fiction. Woven together are actual facts and an embellished version of the early life of her mother. Natalia was left by her fleeing Jewish parents on a doorstep during the January 1941 Bucharest Pogrom. After spending a brief time in a Romanian orphanage, she was adopted by Anton and Despina Goza who were desperate for a family following several miscarriages. Natalia became the most cherished of daughters in a reasonably prosperous Romanian family. She had an almost luxurious life during the war years and became a talented and skilled pianist in spite of her young age. She had dreams of studying music and making that a career, but post-war Romania and the Russian occupation ended those dreams. Her father, Anton, was considered an “enemy of the state” since he was not a member of the Communist Party. The family business, home and possessions were seized by the government and the family was forced into a communal living situation where they shared a small apartment with several other families. Natalia became a factory worker in her late teenage years. A man named Victor, who her father had assisted as a youth during the war, reappears outside the factory and becomes involved in Natalia’s life again. It is at this point that Veletzos departs from her mother’s actual history into a fictionalized version of the story. Although her mother did not leave Romania in the way that Natalia does, many Romanian Jews did have their freedom “bought” by clandestine transactions with the Romanian government and were resettled in Israel and the United States, making the ending consistent with history. I learned a great deal about World War II and the spread of communism behind the Iron Curtain through reading this well written book.
Three Words That Describe This Book: Poignant, Gripping, Insightful
Give it a Try if You Like: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, War Brides by Helen Bryan or Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese
About FDL Reads
FDL Reads is a series of weekly book reviews from Fondulac District Library.