The Girl They Left Behind

Written by Roxanne Veletzos
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

Bucharest, Romania, 1941. King Carol II has abdicated, and General Antonescu’s Legionnaires are massacring Jews or disappearing them in the night. So when the knock comes on Iosef’s door and an officer tells him to come in for questioning—and to bring his wife and daughter—Iosef knows they’ll never return. Into the night they run, knowing they’re doomed: if they don’t freeze to death, the Iron Guard will find and kill them. Their only hope is to flee to the home of a friend who will hide them; but Stefan could never take them in with a child, Iosef tells Zora. If they are to save their daughter, they must abandon her to the mercy of strangers.

And so, Roxanne Veletzos’s debut novel opens with a three-year-old sitting alone on the steps of an unfamiliar apartment building on a frigid January night, wondering when her parents are coming back for her. They aren’t. But she finds mercy in the concierge who rescues her, and in Stefan’s wife, Maria, who arranges for her own cousin to adopt her.

Excellent crafting complements superb storytelling as Veletzos depicts the war’s atrocities and years of degradation and blight through the eyes of a child who knows nothing else. Veletzos relates Romania’s complex role in WWII succinctly and with such good timing that readers can understand what is happening in the war while remaining immersed in the lives of the many people who risk what they most cherish in order to give a child a shot at life.

Based on the life of Veletzos’s mother, The Girl They Left Behind is a gripping story of endurance; of a childhood lived under a state of relentless war; and of goodness, courage, sheer will, and the fierce, selfless love that binds parent to child. Highly recommended.