The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes follows Honeymoon in Paris. The honeymoon is over and a few years of happiness have passed between artist, Edouard Lefevre and his wife, Sophie in the 1900s before World War I keeps them apart. In the 2000s, Liv Halston is a widow. Her architect husband died shortly after he gave her Edouard’s portrait of Sophie. The Girl You Left Behind is a monumental love story.
It’s World War I in Sophie’s village and the Germans have taken over her Inn. She is forced to serve the Germans while her and her village starve from lack of food. A new commander takes over and has become enamored with Sophie. Edouard’s letter is smuggled in from the front lines and Sophie clings to the day when they will be reunited. Likewise, in the 2000s, Liv is a bitter widow.
Liv has Sophie’s portrait hanging in her bedroom of the glass house her husband built. The bills are past due and Liv is close to losing everything. Liv meets Paul, a man who seeks out paintings stolen during the great wars. Paul and Liv fall in love, but when he enters her bedroom, he sees the picture the descendants of Edouard Lefevre were seeking. Liv’s deceased husband bought it a couple of years before he died. It was a legitimate purchase. The moral issue of whether the descendants have a right to a multi-million dollar painting after such a long passing of time strains the relationship between Paul and Liv. For a time, it separates them as Paul’s company takes her to court.
In an interview done here, JoJo says, “I was briefly the arts correspondent for The Independent newspaper in London, so I knew a bit about the legal issues. But I read an amazing news story about a young woman reporter who had been asked to mind a huge collection of stolen Nazi artwork, and was given a very valuable stolen Cranach as a ‘thank you.’ Many decades later when it came up for auction it was recognised and became the subject of a claim. Without wanting to diminish in any way the suffering of those who lost their precious belongings, I think there is (Is there room for sympathy on both sides?). The more time that goes by, the more complicated the issue becomes, as people buy and sell in good faith, not knowing the painting’s tainted past. These things are also complicated when great legal industries spring up around them, as seems to have happened in the case of stolen artwork.”
Liv doesn’t want to let go of the painting because it’s akin to giving away her husband. The painting puts her further in debt, causes mounting costs, and almost the foundation her husband started. But through this struggle, Liv learns about Sophie and Edouard.
The new German commander takes a great liking to Sophie. He demands his soldiers be fed well at the Inn. He falls in love with the painting of herself done by Edouard and their conversations become centered around art in Paris, pre-World War I. The strife in the village was common in the World Wars. The gossip horrendous, but understandable when one considers trust as a valuable asset in a world frequented by neighbor turning in neighbor. When Edouard is taken by the Germans as a POW, Sophie sells her painting and her body to the commander to ensure Edouard’s safety. From this point, the story becomes a painful and rewarding love story of not only Sophie and Edouard, but also of Paul and Liv.
The journey that JoJo takes the reader is well worth investing the time to read it. It’s earned a permanent place in my home library as a novel for re-reading. The character development and prose is powerful and unforgettable. It also, once again, causes you to think about the dilemmas created in The Girl You Left Behind. I gave this novel five stars.
*Book given by publisher to review.