Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The year is 1916, and Europe has been torn asunder by WWI. In a small town in France, Sophie Lefevre dreams of her husband Edouard, who has gone to fight against the Germans. She stares at the portrait Edouard painted of her before the left, a memory of a time when she was carefree and in love. But when the Germans come to town and the Kommandant takes a special interest in Sophie, will she risk all she holds dear to be reuinted with Edouard? Years later, this small painting of Sophie is all Liv Halston has to remember her husband by after his sudden death. But when it’s revealed how much the painting is worth and that it might have shady origins, Liv becomes embroiled in a desperate battle over ownership and must decide on what this painting is worth to her.
The Girl You Left Behind is the story of two women, so different yet so alike, living in two very different time periods and both fighting battles of their own. Sophie and Eve are both strong, independent women, yet they are each so fragile in their own ways. They also each have to face unique pressures that make them targets for their friends, peers, and the public. It’s so interesting how Moyes mirrors their struggles, though they are dealing with very different issues. Sophie must face life-or-death odds, while Liv is struggling to hold onto the past.
In today’s climate, Liv’s predicament is especially interesting in The Girl You Left Behind. Liv’s husband died very suddenly, and she’s a young widow. The painting, purchased on a whim on the street, is one of her main links to her beloved husband, something that makes her happy. It’s understandable why she’d want to fight to save it. Moyes gives us a unique perspective in this novel; while we mostly read about recovery of stolen art from the claimant’s standpoint, in this case, it’s Liv who’s being accused. The author puts a human face on the issue, and it’s hard not to sympathize with Liv’s plight, especially when the reader sees how isolated and vilified she becomes.
Through Sophie, Moyes shows us small town wartime dynamics in The Girl You Left Behind. Surviving isn’t easy, and Sophie must walk a very fine line in order to ensure her family is cared for, and yet also to fulfill the Germans’ wishes without appearing to be collaborators. What Sophie must deal with is horrifying, and readers will immediately be emotionally invested in her story. Moyes balances the two stories well; readers will be equally tied to both stories, hoping that both Sophie and Liv find happiness somehow.
Jojo Moyes is a very talented author, and The Girl You Left Behind shows that on every page. She has an incredible ability to tap into that emotional undercurrent, investing the reader in the novel without making them feel manipulated. Her characters are incredibly realistic and well developed, and her easy, affable writing style makes it simple to fall into her novels and not want to take a break until the last page is read. If you haven’t read any of her books, this is a great place to start, though I highly recommend all of her wonderful novels.
Other books by Jojo Moyes: