She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.
~~Louisa May Alcott
I’m not the biggest fan of books set during either World War. It’s a personal choice, I just prefer books set during happier times. But Jojo Moyes had a guest post at Book Binge recently and I was intrigued by what she had to say. I took the plunge and decided to read The Girl You Left Behind. I’m so glad I did.
It starts off with Sophie Lefevre in France during World War 1. She’s moved back to her small town to be with her family while her husband is off fighting. Sophie and her sister run an inn and one night after a confrontation with the Germans over a pig, Sophie has caught the eye of the new Kommandant. Well, a portrait of Sophie has caught the Kommandant’s eye. Sophie’s husband is an artist and he was a contemporary of Matisse. The Kommandant is an art lover and after he forces Sophie to start cooking him supper every day, they have tentative discussions about art. The local people, prone to gossip, do not take kindly to the Kommandant’s favor upon Sophie and her family. When Sophie discovers that her husband was taken to the worst prison camp the Germans have, she goes to the Kommandant and asks him to have her husband moved. She’ll give him the portrait for her husband’s safety. The Kommandant agrees, but then something goes wrong…
After that, the story jumps to the present day and we’re introduced to Liv Halston. She’s a young widow who’s barely holding on. She lives in a house she can no longer afford and she’s avoiding facing her debts. But her husband built the house and it would feel like a betrayal to his memory to leave it. It’s been 4 years since his death, but she’s still grieving. Then one night she meets Paul at a gay bar (she was feeling a bit sorry for herself and wanted a stress-free drink, without getting hit on lol) and Paul is at the bar because his brother works there. Paul is a former cop and American (Liv is British) and now he works on locating art stolen by the Nazis and returning it to the rightful owners. And lo and behold, he starts a relationship with Liv when he gets a new case for a portrait. The artist is Edouard Lefevre and the portrait is of his wife. Paul doesn’t realize at first that Liv is the one who has the portrait but things definitely go downhill for them when he sees it.
And this is where things really get interesting. The story now goes between the two time periods when the case goes to court. Liv refuses to part with the portrait. Her husband bought it fair and square from an American woman and it holds great sentimental value for her. The Lefevre family didn’t even know of its existence until a few years ago – and even Paul has his doubts that they hold any sentimental value about it. They just see money signs. So to court it goes – there is 50 years missing from that painting’s provenance and I cried as the story of that painting and Sophie’s fate unfolded. First I cried in sorrow, then in happiness. Any book that makes me cry is a good read.
The author did an excellent job of portraying both women’s lives in their different time periods. I was so caught up in Sophie’s story and the way it stopped to pick up Liv’s story made me read that much faster. I had to know how it ended for her. She was so sure she was going to be reunited with her husband. But the day to day living under German rule, that was well done and not too depressing. The way the book started is actually pretty funny. It hooked me right away. And then later, when Sophie’s story gets picked back up, oh man, that was so hard to read about. I cried.
I like how Liv’s story mirrored Sophie’s as the trial took place. And her search for the truth. I liked that too. Those genealogy shows are some of my favorites (Who Do You Think You Are?) and that part of the story was like that. And Liv’s search and Paul’s as well definitely led to some great finds. Again, I cried. LOL I cried for the last 50 pages I believe. Emotional hangover when I closed that book.
The Girl You Left Behind is going to make my top 10 list of best books of 2013. I highly recommend this. 4.75 out of 5