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Book Review - The Girl Who Left by Debra Gavranich

Debra and I met at her book launch back in August 2021. I had ordered her book after reading about it in the Cairns Post and eagerly waited to meet her, get her signature on my copy of the book, and have a photo taken with her - I have to admit, I was already a fan! Her mother’s story, beautifully encapsulated in ‘The Girl Who Left’ was everything I had heard before because I, too, have strong Croatian blood running through my veins and worship my mother for many of the same reasons Debra does hers, her compassion, loyalty, and strength. Although the lives of my and Debra’s mothers were completely different, I could relate to the stories of hardship Debra spoke about, as they were experienced by my grandparents, from the same country, on the same island, and at the very same time. This alone made me feel very connected to ‘The Girl Who Left’ even before I read it.

‘The Girl Who Left,’ as I said, is the story of Debra’s mother, Marija. A woman from Croatia, living a childhood during a time of war, fear, poverty, and politics. Debra describes these times like a true historian, capturing not only the historical facts but also the emotion of the country’s people, ambushed at the hands of a political and religious war during the 1940s and ’50s. Sadly, many countrymen and women decided to leave Croatia for a safer life, many finding themselves in faraway countries like Australia. Remarkably for Maria, her commitment to leave Croatia found her not only a safer life but also the love of her life.

An opportunity for a proxy marriage between Maria and a mysterious Croatian stranger living in Australia found her on a boat, then a train, on the long voyage to her new home in Mossman, Far North Queensland. There in Mossman, she started her new life with her new husband and his family. Her family left many, many miles away but remained close to her heart forever.

‘The Girl Who Left’ is a beautiful story that travels through a time when love was often all anyone had. Debra shows so much strength of character to bring her mothers story together in this way to celebrate her life and her courage. I know Debra shares my gratitude to the immigrants of the past who had the strength to make better lives for themselves and for the generations to follow.

Bravo, Debra. I know ‘The Girl Who Left’ is bringing you great success and recognition already, but please continue to live your best life in this beautiful country that your mother chose for you to call ‘home.’

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