Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes
First published: September 26th 2012, Penguin
Edition: ebook, 430 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Age group: Adult
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
In 1916 the small French town of St. Péronne is occupied by German soldiers. One of its citizens, young Sophie Lefevre hasn’t seen her husband Edouard since his leaving for the Front 2 years ago. Sophie and her sister Helene’s life now is centered around their family’s hotel, where they run a bar for the neighbors left, mostly women, elderly people and kids.
The only thing Sophie has left of her husband, which is very dear to both of them, is Sophie’s portrait, painted by Edouard himself, an underrated artist that he is. The painting shows Sophie in bright and vivid colors, both being a true copy of her image, yet giving her some intriguing light, her gaze magnetic and penetrating.
Sophie doesn’t want to hide the portrait from the people coming to the bar, she feels it giving her strength to go on, reminds her of the girl she used to be when she and Edouard just married. She is not the only one to admire it, though. The local German Kommandant, who enforces her to cook dinner for him and his people every evening, can’t seem to be able to pry his eyes away from it.
Only his admiration doesn’t stop with the painting as he favors Sophie too, making her the main theme of the town’s talk.
Like many women in her town, Sophie hasn’t had a word from her husband for months, but the way the Kommandant acts with her, makes her believe he is a man of his word, the one who will help the artist, whose work he loves so much, reunite with his wife.
The risk that Sophie takes, making a deal with the Kommandant, not only ruins her reputation and love of her family for her, but is believed to cost her her life.
In London of 2006 Liv Halston has been coping with the death of her husband for 4 years. The great architecture that he was, he has left a lot of his works as a reminder of him, one of them being the highly innovative Glass House Liv still lives in. But the thing she treasures the most is the gift David bought her during their honeymoon in Spain. The portrait of The Girl You Left Behind, hung on the wall of her bedroom, is both a reminder of happier times and the source of strength for Liv to go on.
Having to struggle both emotionally and financially, Liv is shocked when she learned that the man, with whom she might have wanted to move on from David, actually works for the organization that traces and returns works of art to their owners. And the claim is that The Girl You Left Behind was actually stolen during World War I from the artist’s family.
Liv finds herself unable to simply pass the portrait, it’s the only thing left from her husband that helped her to survive, besides she feels a strange emotional connection to the girl in the painting, Liv’s mission is now not only to prove her legal ownership of the work of art, but also to find out what has become of the girl.
The Girl You Left Behind is the second book by Jojo Moyes that I’ve read, the first one being Me Before You. And what I’ve learned about her works is that Moyes is not the type of author to write about superficial and basically unimportant things. Quite the contrary, she deals with serious and sometimes controversial themes, making gripping stories of them, ones that make you think and emotionally connect to.
The Girl You Left Behind, being a historical fiction on the forefront, picturing the hardships of the War, people’s suffers and deaths, is also a moving story about survival, love and loyalty. It’s not about some ideal people, those to take life as it is. It’s about two women, who lived in absolutely different settings and times, yet those to never give up, those to take risks and fight till the end, even if deep in their hearts they don’t believe in the possible happy ending.
The story of Sophie strikes with its authenticity. The part of the story is written in a form of Sophie’s diary where she tells about her life in an occupied town, the people she is surrounded with, her family’s struggle to survive in constant hunger. But mostly she writes about her husband. She misses him a lot and is afraid to never see him again.
The thing she does hoping to save Edouard, is probably very naive and risky, but I couldn’t find it in me to believe she deserved all the sufferings she had to deal with later. Yes, she did the unthinkable, and she believed the word of an enemy, but throughout the whole story I hoped that everything would turn out good for her, that she would find her happily-ever-after. Well, though it’s not much learned about her fate in the end, I was delighted that she survived and was reunited with her love.
Liv’s story is not that tragic as Sophie’s, though in the beginning it’s not happy either. In a way, I found these to heroines to have something in common. They both are proud, straightforward and determined. If Sophie’s name was tarnished back in 1916, that even her family couldn’t do much about it, I’m glad that even many years later Liv found out that at least it was not for nothing.
Liv’s story is more of the legal case, of her fighting with Edouard Lefevre’s descendants (who apparently don’t care much about the painting itself but its price), but she, too, finds her happy ending.
The way the story kept turning from 1916 to the present day, giving bit by bit of both Sophie’s and Liv’s stories, made it an anxious and impressive read for me. I love Jojo Moyes writing, the unique atmosphere she creates in her stories, you feel being totally transferred into their worlds. And though the year has just started I’m already sure that The Girl You Left Behind will be one of my most favorite books in 2013.