Happy Monday, all! Today I have a review of The Girl They Left Behind, a new historical fiction publication from Atria Books, and out tomorrow!
The Girl They Left Behind is an enchanting story of family based on the author’s mother’s early life.
In Bucharest, Romania, in 1941, a three-year-old girl is found alone on the steps of an apartment building. She is Jewish, and Romania has recently aligned with the Nazis, so all the Jews are risking peril if they cannot escape.
She is taken in at an orphanage and eventually adopted by a couple, Anton and Despina, who name her Natalia. Romania then falls into the hands of the Soviets and life changes for everyone all over again. The family faces bombings, starvation, and threats to their health thanks to a deadly infection. Through all of this, they are steadfast as a family.
Natalia grows up in this dismal and sad world under the Communist regime, and she occasionally gets peeks at her own identity, one she does not fully understand since being separated from her biological parents. She later falls in love with Victor, who works for the Communists. He is determined to help her escape when she has the chance, even though he cannot go with her. She would also be leaving her loving adoptive parents if she goes.
My favorites aspect of this book involved the love for family. Anton and Despina strongly desired to have a child, and in a time when they were feeling hopeless, Natalia enters their lives. Natalia was cherished, and it seems they lived their lives making up for all she had lost. Another wonderful facet is that we hear from Natalia’s birth parents. They are always searching for her. I also appreciated the Romanian setting. I have not read a book set in Romania before, and I found the history enlightening and the cultural aspects were fascinating.
The Girl They Left Behind is a deeply emotional, fully immersive tale of the sheer will to survive and how intense love defines a family whether they are close in physical space or solely in the heart.
Thank you to Atria for the ARC to read and review. All opinions are my own.
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.
Have you read The Girl They Left Behind, or do you plan to? Have you read any other books set in Romania? Happy Reading! ~ Jennifer THR