Author: Jojo Moyes
Provided Synopsis: In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.
Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…
In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most – whatever the cost.
Review: At its’ core, Jojo Moyes’ novel The Girl You Left Behind is a story of two women that have experienced loss yet have the courage to continue on. The book begins with the story of Sophie Lefevre. When her husband is called to the Front, she returns to her French hometown to work in her family’s hotel with her older sister. Before long the town falls under German rule, resulting in the starvation of the town people and the order for the two sisters to feed the Germans every night within their hotel. Since her husband was an artist, Sophie keeps a painting that he had painted of her before the war on the walls of the hotel; it draws the attention of a German Kommadant and leads to a decision that Sophie must make if she is to be reunited with her husband.
As if that storyline was not heartbreaking enough, Part Two of the book brings the second main character named Liv Halston into prominence. She had been gifted the painting of Sophie by her late husband during their honeymoon and has established a strong connection with it in the four years she has struggled to come to terms with her husband’s death. When it is revealed that her painting is a stolen piece of art from the wars and must be returned to the original owner’s family, she decides to fight for her painting, thus putting into motion a startling commentary between the characters of the story and the reader concerning the moral dilemma of art stolen during wartime.
Liv and her husband had legitimately paid for the painting, so I continuously found myself sympathetic towards her plight even when characters in the story wanted to make her into a heartless villain, as I am sure they would also do if she were a real-world person. While I understand the unfairness of having art stolen during the World Wars, I also saw the unfairness of those years and degrees removed from the crime being the ones who must deal with the retribution. The reader can learn plenty about art theft and provenance from this story; the greater reward of it, however, is the awakening of the thought-provoking conversation it can stir within you as you consider where your opinion falls on this dilemma.
With its’ skillful weaving of the story of Sophie and Liv, The Girl You Left Behind comes highly recommended by me. The subject matter is thought provoking and the emotional depth is sincere. This is the first piece of work that I have read by Jojo Moyes, but it certainly will not be my last.