Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: JoJo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books / Viking
Publication Date: August 20,2013
How I Got It: She Reads Book Club October Selection
Publicist Supplied Summary:
In the small French town of St. Peronne, Sophie Lefevre is struggling under the German occupation. It is 1916, and with her husband (and most other men) fighting at the front, she is barely keeping the famiy restaurant--Le Coq Rouge--afloat under the strict and unforgiving rationing. To combat the pain of a starving belly and despite the fact that it draws unwanted attention to her family, Sophie defiantly keeps the portrait her artist husband painted of her up on the wall. Seeing it transports her back to their lives in Paris--full of good food and joie de vivre. When the painting catches the eye of the new Kommandant, Sophie becomes the object of his obsession. As he spends more time at Le Coq Rouge, Sophie is drawn in to a dangerous bargain with the German officer as she tries to protect those she loves the most.
Almost a century later, Liv Halston is living under the shadow of her young husband's sudden death and a growing debt. She lives in the gorgeous flat he designed for them, but her lack of a steady job means she can no longer afford to keep the show place that should have been her home forever. Her prized possession, given to her by her husband as a wedding present, is the same portrait that hung on Sophie's wall in 1916. Enter Paul McCaffery; when Liv meets him during a chance encounter, she starts to feel like life may have something in store for her yet. But Paul's work lies in the restitution of art lost and the spoils of war. In a cruel twist, his next case: the portrait of Sophie that Liv loves most in all the world. For Liv, her belief in what is right will be put to the ultimate test.
My Review: (Contains Spoilers)
I would like to say I was equally involved in each storyline but, in fact, I was more interested in Sophie's. I usually steer clear of German occupation stories and war stories in general. I respect the stories that are written to illuminate these topics but I usually can't handle them as a personal reading choice. However, Jojo Moyes created a novel with the perfect combination of hope and despair. This wonderfully complex story is a reminder of a dark chapter in history that obliterated masses of stories.
I feel in love with Sophie at the end of the first chapter and became so involved in her storyline that I was quite shaken when the story shifted to present day Liv. I was awed by Sophie's spunk, work ethic, and her relationship with Eduord. I was humbled by her bravery and "chin up" spirit while she served the Germans. I respected her attempts to establish a human connection with her captors. I didn't judge her when she made her deal with the Kommandant. By the halfway point of the novel, I was so involved in Sophie's storyline that I didn't know if I could continue reading for fear of the outcome.
Liv on the other hand annoyed me a bit. I wanted to just shake her and say "snap out of it" with the wallowing depression. She lit up a bit a few times but not enough for me to really cheer for her. Paul's roles as ex-cop, father, and brother give him much more dimension than Liv's defeated victim role.
But as far as favorite characters go, I loved a secondary character in this book so much that they may have even surpassed my love of Sophie. Marianne Andrews steals every scene she is in. She slips and gives the hint to Liv about Paul's procuring of evidence for Liv's side in the court battle. Her defense of her mother's journalism work, her dismissal of her multiple marriages and her sense of humor (It's not a recipe for prawn gumbo) overshadow Liv and Paul in the present day timeline.
I went into this novel expecting Elie Wiesel's Night but I would compare The Girl You Left Behind to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society. JoJo Moyes focuses on love and sacrifice but doesn't sugar coat the horrors of war. Personifying the occupation and bringing to light looted art, true ownership and reparations, The Girl You Left Behind would be a wonderful book for classroom discussion and book clubs.