Book Review: The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind Roxanne Velezos book review

The synopses on the back of the book:

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.

  • Genre: Historical Fiction

  • Publisher: Atria Books

  • Published: 10/09/2018

  • Pages: 368

  • Goodreads Rating: 4.39 Stars

The Girl They Left Behind roxanne veletzos book review
They will stumble repeatedly; they will fall over each other. They will say, ‘Get up, let us go back to our own people and our native lands, away from the sword of the oppressor.’
— Jeremiah 45:46

Why I Chose This Book

I am taking part in the TLC Book Tour for this book. You know I love a good historical war novel! And it intrigued me that it was based on a true story.

First Initial Thoughts

Natalia is a young woman who has gone through a lot. She was adopted by Anton and Despina when she was only 4 years old. Her former parents are unknown but she longs to know where she came from. I really liked that her adopted parents told her that she was adopted. I appreciate it when adoptive parents do this. I think if I was adopted I would want to know, and have the chance to find out who my birth parents were.

We do get a brief background story on Natalia’s parents in the beginning. Let’s just say it made me so sad! It really brought the issues right front and center of what the Jews had to endure. And what they had to do to survive.

Anton and Despina, their love story was so cute in the beginning. I liked that Roxanne briefly mentioned their struggles to have children, and their journey to adopt. Anton and Despina were lovely parents and totally doted on Natalia. I love adoption stories like this!

Victor doesn’t appear till later in the story. But he has an important role later on. He had a lot of opinions about communism and the wealthy. Usually you have a character who is agains such regime’s but he was for communism. It was interesting to read his viewpoints and opinions.


Roxanne brought Romania to life and what it was like during WWII in that country. I could tell Roxanne did a lot of research for this book. I learned a lot about Romania during this time, especially what they did to the Jews. No spoilers here but I had no idea they did that (and it’s not the obvious)!

There is a time for everything and a reason for every activity under the heavens.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1

Final Thoughts

One thing to note about this book is that it reads slow. It definitely takes a few chapters for something big to happen. However, I can see why Roxanne did this. I think she wanted to have it slowly build up to something bigger. This book is also entirely written in 3rd person. Which is different. I am use to reading books in 1st person. This book rarely had any conversation like you do in 1st person. I liked this though, it gave the book a unique vibe.

What I found interesting about this book is that usually in WWII novels, the main character is from a working class family. Natalia is from a well off family. They are not exorbitantly wealthy but they have enough to afford summer homes and luxury vacations. Therefore, it was interesting to see the viewpoint of the war from a person who was a little more well off than others in the city.

This book emphasized resilience and love. You really got a sense of how these people lived and felt during this time. They kept going on despite the tight regulations of the communists. Their will to survive and their love as a family was very inspiring.

What I most loved about this novel was that the author not only based this on a true story, but on her own families history. I loved that she was able to honor her family in that way with telling their story.

Would I Recommend?

Yes. I think anyone that enjoys learning more about WWII history will throughly enjoy this book! Especially those that have Romanian heritage might enjoy reading more about their culture and history.

About The Author

roxanne veletzos

Roxanne Veletzos was born in Bucharest, Romania and moved to California with her family as a young teen. Already fluent in English and French, she began writing short stories about growing up in her native Eastern Europe, at first as a cathartic experience as she transitioned to a new culture, then simply to pursue what had become an unrelenting passion. She has worked as an editor, content writer, and marketing manager for a number of Fortune 500 companies and has been writing fiction since 2012. Her first novel, THE GIRL THEY LEFT BEHIND, is based on her family’s true story.

Connect with Roxanne

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

I hope you enjoyed this review and are having a fabulous week!

the caffeinated bibliophile
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