Summary: In 1916, French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.
Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…
In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most – whatever the cost.
Before I begin my review . . . I didn’t do very much reading in 2013. The first 3/4 of the year were mainly spent wedding planning, working, and writing. And then October happened. I finished the second draft of Battle Hymns, got married three days later, and went on my honeymoon one day after that. That is when I rediscovered that reading is good for the soul.
I packed three books in my suitcase and loaded a couple more onto my iPad, all in preparation for spending a week and a half in the hot, Balinese sun. I mentioned this to my mother during our pre-wedding mani/pedi, and she said, “You shouldn’t be reading on your honeymoon. You should be doing something else, like your husband, instead.” My bridesmaid guffawed so loudly the entire salon paid attention. I disagreed of course. We were gone for nine full days. What else was I going to do while we laid at pool? Additionally, the flight time to get from Dallas to Denpasar, Bali is a grand total of 20 hours each way. How better to pass the time than with a good book?
My honeymoon book list included The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey, and Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck. I only read the first two. I will not write a review for The Fault in Our Stars because I don’t think I can give it justice and everyone has reviewed it by now, I’m sure. It was a great book. I frightened my new husband by sobbing while soaking in our flower-filled bathtub, though, so perhaps it wasn’t the best choice for a honeymoon read.
Back to the review.
The Girl You Left Behind is now one of my favorite books. I devoured it in no more than a day and a half. The novel opens in France, 1916 with Sophie Lefevre hiding a contraband piglet from the Germans by wrapping it into blankets as if it were a newborn. I remember being astonished at the how well that opening worked. It introduced us to all the major characters – Sophie, her family, and the new Kommandant. It gave opportunities for the characters to show their strengths and weaknesses. It also explained the environment of France in World War I to anyone who might not be familiar with that time period. As a writer, I aspire to write an opening scene as well as that one.
The novel encompasses two stories and revolves around a portrait of Sophie Lefevre that was painted by her husband. One story is set in 1916 France, the other in 21st century London. In 1916, the Kommandant notices the portrait in Sophie’s house and admires it. In the 2000s, the painting is being sought after by Edouard Lefevre’s descendents with claims that it was stolen by the Germans during the war. There is plenty more to the story than that, but this is what drives the story. For the entire second half of the novel, the question ultimately becomes: If the painting was stolen by the Germans, what happened to Sophie? Was she imprisoned? Did she die? It’s a question that makes for a great page-turner.
The two stories tied together perfectly, and you can tell the author put a ton of research into art restitution cases. Her protagonists were perfectly written. You rooted for them despite their weaknesses. I loved how she wrote the Kommandant. He was the enemy, he killed many of the French, and yet he had a weakness for Sophie. All in all, I loved it.
After I finished the book, I downloaded Honeymoon in Paris, a short prequel, and The Last Letter From Your Lover, another novel by Moyes, onto my iPad and read them on the flight home. I will read everything by Jojo Moyes going forward.
As I sign off, this was my view as I read The Girl You Left Behind. Enjoy.