Release date: October 9, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.
One of the best parts of reading really well researched HF is learning about otherwise little known pieces of history and I knew next to nothing about what things were like in Romania during World War Two. The author really knew what she was talking about here, her care and attention to the subject matter was heavily apparent and she did a gorgeous job of bringing this story to life while also educating me, such a great bonus!
Stories about parents forced to make heartbreaking decisions always hold my attention and when Natalia’s biological parents leave her behind when they are forced to flee for their lives I could only imagine the pain behind this choice. To know the one chance your child has to live is for you to leave them in such a perilous situation? Ahhh SO devastating. This follows Natalia from that life changing moment over the course of several years and I was wholeheartedly invested in her story. Would she be reunited with her birth parents? Would her and her adoptive parents even survive? It was an emotional tale and one that left an impact on me that I won’t forget.
Besides a truly compelling plot, this was written so beautifully, almost delicately especially considering the subject matter. It explored the bonds of family and how deep a mother’s love can be, it was about sacrifice, struggle but it was also hopeful and inspiring, such a beautiful combination that always slays me. Highly recommended for HF fans, Veletzos is an author to watch.
The Girl They Left Behind in three words: Emotional, Engrossing and Heartbreaking.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.