The Girl They Left Behind

The Girl They Left Behind

by Roxanne Veletzos


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501187681
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 21,835
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

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. Building on her love of the written language, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge and has worked as an editor, content writer, and marketing manager for a number of Fortune 500 companies.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Girl They Left Behind includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. For much of the novel, Natalia cannot remember her life before Anton and Despina adopted her, saying “her past had faded to black” (pg. 73), although she eventually regains some of her memories of her birth parents’ flight from Romania when she was almost four. What is your earliest memory? Is there anything from before then that you wish you could recollect?

2. In the first window into Despina’s point of view, she reflects on the serendipitous nature of her meeting Anton. Are there other moments in the plot that seem “fated”? What role does the notion of fate play in the book?

3. The Girl They Left Behind is separated into three parts—Anton and Despina, Natalia, and Victor. Why do you think Roxanne Veletzos chose to structure the novel this way? How did each part contribute to the overarching narrative?

4. One of the prominent themes of the book is reversal of fortune. For example, Anton acquires great wealth, only to lose everything, and Victor, once a starving university student, rises to the top of a political regime. What do you think bonds these two characters so deeply despite their opposing circumstances?

5. In a critical moment when Natalia is ill and needs to get to a hospital, a Nazi soldier decides to save her life because he also has a daughter. Were you surprised by this display of humanity? Do you think he would have done the same thing if he knew Natalia was of Jewish descent? Why, or why not?

6. When Despina receives the letter from Natalia’s birth mother, she is forced to make a decision about whether to share that letter with her daughter. Do you think you would have done the same thing in her position?

7. When Natalia runs into Victor in her early twenties, she is torn between her attraction to him and his desertion of her and her family ten years prior. What finally draws her into his arms? Does she ever forgive him fully or is there still a part of him that she distrusts? What in the end allows her to let him go and move into a future without him?

8. Both Despina and Zora exemplify incredible strength in their fight for the safety of their daughter. Discuss whether they seem ultimately separated or united in the choices they make as mothers. Which one of them do you think finds the most peace at the end of the novel?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. As a group, take a look at the section beginning on page 341: The Real Girl Left Behind. Do the photographs of the real-life Anton, Despina, and Natalia match with how you envisioned them? If not, how do they differ? In her author’s note, Roxanne Veletzos mentions a couple of the changes she made to her mother’s story to fictionalize it. Why do you think she made those changes? What effect did they have on the novel?

2. In the epilogue, Natalia writes that she will help her parents leave Romania and help them join her. Consider writing a scene in which Anton and Despina come to New York. What would it be like for them to reunite with Natalia? How would they feel seeing Zora and Iosef? What sort of life would they build in America? Share your writing pieces with your book club and discuss the different ways you imagined their future.

3. One aspect that sets The Girl They Left Behind apart from many other novels set during the same era is its Romanian setting. Consider reading another historical novel set during World War II with your book group, such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer, The Diplomat’s Daughter by Karin Tanabe, or The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa. After reading, compare and contrast with The Girl They Left Behind. What similar themes were touched upon in both novels? What challenges did characters face in both? How did the setting impact its outlook on the war or its fallout? What did each novel explore that was different?

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The Girl They Left Behind 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Two extremes...hate and love intertwined to represent the oppression and sacrifices humans are exposed to that is a reality to so many.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Loved it! Excellent!
Anonymous 3 months ago
This was a well written story, but the ending was disappointing. It made the majority of the book seen pointless.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Great book
whatsbetterthanbooks 10 months ago
Evocative, absorbing, and incredibly affecting! The Girl They Left Behind is a powerful, riveting tale that sweeps you into a country ravaged and oppressed by war and then forced to endure economic instability, political upheaval, social injustice, and lack of freedoms under Stalinist rule. The prose is poetic and enchanting. The characters are multi-layered, resilient, and vulnerable. And the plot, set in Romania during the mid-1900s, is a profoundly moving tale about war, familial relationships, heartbreak, loss, guilt, grief, suspicion, desperation, resilience, courage, coming of age, and hope. Overall, The Girl They Left Behind is the perfect blend of historical facts, compelling fiction, and palpable emotion. It’s a beautifully written story that is nostalgic, heart-wrenching, and impactful and does a remarkable job of highlighting not only the indomitable spirit of humanity to endure, survive, conquer, and even love under even the most atrocious of circumstances but also Veletzos’ passion for her maternal heritage.
mweinreich 10 months ago
4.5 stars 4.5 valiant stars I have always been attracted to books about the second World War and the people who lived in Europe during that awful time. They, the ones who survived were left, with not only the scars incurred upon themselves, but also the countries in which they lived being devastated and in ruin. In this book: The Girl They Left Behind we meet a young Jewish family who are trying to escape the scourges of being persecuted for being Jewish. They leave their young four year old daughter, on a doorstep hoping for the best, that she will be found and saved. It is a terrible option, but one that they are forced to make as they are sure of their capture and probably their death. They bear major regrets and love and adore their child vowing if they survive somehow someday they will find their daughter. It is Bucharest and the war rages as young Natalia, the abandoned child, is found and adopted by a wealthy Romanian family. Life seems to be on the upswing for Natalia as the people who become her adoptive parents are kind, loving, and wealthy. However, as in all things the winds of war blow in all kinds of directions, and after the war ends, Romania finds itself under Russian control and locked behind what would eventually be called the Iron Curtain. Harsh and cruel the realities that Natalia and her family faces are devastating and as Natalia grows she falls in love with a man, Victor, who has mysterious but powerful connections to the regime. This was a most poignant story, one that showed how many were forced to survive after the war. It was a true test of survival and hope that someday things would be better although the bleakness is so well portrayed in this book. We all hope for the best in our lives and Natalia does as well. She adores her family and Victor, but hard choices need to be made so that she can move forward and find in herself and others her strength, her freedom, and those who love her. I recommend this story to those who love a well done historical fiction. It was a riveting story once again reminding us that we, who enjoy freedom, are ever so lucky and fortunate to be living where we are.
KVM 10 months ago
If you like a good story set during WWII, then this is the book for you. Set in Romania, 1941 the Jewish population was now being targeted, Natalia was left on the doorstep of a building by her parents who feared for their very survival. Anton and Despina wanted for nothing, except a child. They adopt Natalia and give her a good life. Then Romania is taken over by the Russians and becomes a communist country. The struggles of this family and others will show you what it was like to live with first the Nazi's and then the Russians. Its based on the author's own family. It will grab you and not let go. It makes you wonder if this was your life would you survive? Would you have hope or just live in despair? A great book like this makes you ask those questions. Thank you Roxanne for sharing your families story!
Fredreeca2001 11 months ago
During WWII, Natalia is left at an orphanage when she is just a small child. She is adopted by an amazing set of parents. They truly want the best for her. When the Iron Curtain fell on Bucharest, their whole lives changed for the worst. There is so much packed into this read. With the daily struggles just to survive, it is hard to read in places. Natalia is a talented pianist, but she ends up working in a warehouse just to support herself and her parents. Her parents lost everything during the Russian occupation. Their home, their business, their dignity, is all gone! Victor is a rising star under the communist rule. He became a friend of this family back when he was a starving student. This friendship is Natalia’s saving grace in more ways than one. She is in love with Victor. And he loves her enough to set her free! I fluctuated between 4 and 5 stars while I was reading this book. But the ending rolled it on up to 5. Talk about emotional whirlwind. I am not much of a cryer during books…but this one ALMOST succeeded in making me cry. Any author who can achieve that deserves 5 stars! And to know…it is based on the author’s family. Superbly done! I received this novel from Atria Books via Netgalley.
Anonymous 4 months ago
I felt as if I knew each character. I hated for it to end.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
If you like beautiful writing, historical settings, and touching stories, this book is for you. This book is an absolute page turner. To immerse yourself in a realistic story in the setting of a world war is such an amazing experience. I would highly recommend this book.