The Girl They Left Behind - a story inspired by true events
The best stories are those inspired by true events. The skeleton structure of the narrative arc remains factual but onto those bare bones hang the embellishment that lies in the imagination and the talent of the writer. At first I wondered how the author of The Girl They Left Behind, Roxanne Veletzos, could have been born in Romania when the protagonist, her mother, had left that country dangerously and stealthily and immigrated to the United States. The afterword explains this apparent contradiction. A little poetic license was taken for the sake of literary dramatic tension. The story has so much dramatic tension and suspense I'm not sure it needed more.
The premise of this book is a heart-breaker. Romania allied itself with the Nazi regime during WWII thereby opening the country up to an extreme anti-Semitic faction called The Iron Guard. History has been more reliable in recording German and Polish pogroms but the atrocities perpetrated in Romania were no less atrocious. Jews were even rounded up and taken to slaughterhouses, hung on meat hooks and left to perish. These facts are mentioned only to give the reader a background for the decision that forms the bulwark of the plot.
A Jewish husband and wife on a freezing cold night in Bucharest leave a shivering four-year-old girl on the doorstep on an apartment building. She has on her best velvet dress and in her pocket there is a note that reads, "In anguish and despair we release this child into the hands of God, with the hope and faith that she may be saved." That child, the author's mother, is brought to an orphanage and is eventually adopted by a wealthy Christian couple. The adoptive mother had suffered four miscarriages so the little girl was showered with desperate attention. The choice that her biological parents had made was questionable. Did they just assume that they would die? Did they think that a child would hamper their escape? Was the danger so acute that they could envision no alternative?
Their decision is reminiscent of another tale of the Holocaust, Sophie's Choice, in which every option seems harsh and brutal. We follow the foundling through adolescence and young adulthood as she gratefully returns the love she has been given. After the war when the spoils are divided, Romania comes under the firm grip of the Communist regime. Locked behind the Iron Curtain other severe hardships ensue.
At the end of the story there are actual black and white photographs of the characters that the reader had just encountered. There is also a book club discussion and activities section. History and romance dominate this sweeping family saga which is at times a little over-wrought, however, author Veletzos now living in Marin always maintains control. Translated into many languages, its visual style would allow it to be developed into a poignant and powerful film.
Diane McCurdy can be reached at email@example.com. Diane was born in Santa Rosa, has a BA from SF State and an MA from SSU in English Literature and several teaching credentials, two grown children and three cats. Diane has a lifelong interest in film, thus her DVD reviews on a broad spectrum of films. Clearly, this interest in creative imagination extends to the printed page and book reviews for those who love to read.