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.
Inspired by the story of her grandparents, debut author Veletzos's excellent novel centers on the devastation of Romania by Germany during WWII, and the country's subsequent struggles under Soviet rule. During a pogrom in 1941 Bucharest, a young Jewish couple flees their home. Fearing their capture, they leave their three-year-old daughter behind in an apartment building, hoping that someone will take her in and care for her. Their daughter, Natalia, is brought to an orphanage and is later adopted by Anton and Despina Goza, an affluent childless couple. Despite the bombings and the food shortages, Anton, Despina, and Natalia survive the war with their family intact. When the Soviets invade Romania, the government takes over every aspect of their lives, including Anton's store, and the Gozas are forced out of their home and must live in communal housing. Through all of their trials, Anton maintains his friendship with Victor, a younger man who once lived above his shop and is now a powerful government official. Natalia, no longer the impressionable girl Victor once knew, is now a beautiful, spirited young woman, and Natalia and Victor's passionate romance becomes complicated by his allegiance to the Communist Party. Veletzos expertly weaves historical detail into a rich story about the endurance of the human spirit in the face of adversity.