Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind

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What a tremendously wonderful read to close out the end of 2013!

Last weekend I was floundering trying to find a book that would draw me in. I  had two ready to go, but after opening both of them I knew they just weren’t the right reads at the right time. One had a writing style that was all over the place, whatever thought popped into her mind kind of style, and the other was filled with crude language in the first eleven pages. Nope, nothing that was what I was hoping or looking for at the time.

I ventured back down to the shelves and pulled down two more titles, one being The Girl You Left Behind. A quick consultation with my fellow Hoarder Jackie cemented this as the one. The Girl You Left Behind was indeed rising to the top, but Jackie only confirmed that reading JoJo Moyes would mean a solidly good read. Oh how right she was!

The Girl You Left Behind is about two women born a century apart but joined together by one painting. We first read of Sophie and her sister Helene in1916 France. The Germans have occupied the small village where Sophie and Helene operate the family bar, Le Coq Rouge. Both of their husbands are off at war and both do not know the fate of them. The war has been long and drawn out, food is scarce and hope is dwindling. The only thing of beauty remaining in the home and bar is Sophie’s portrait, painted by her beloved husband Edouard.

Each night the Germans come in to dine at Le Coq Rouge, and the Kommandant stops to stare at the painting and discuss art with Sophie. She is reluctant, uneasy and filled with disdain for this practice at first. As the war drags on and little to no news comes in about Edouard, Sophie becomes desperate. Knowing how much the Kommandant loves the painting she offers it, herself, anything at all to reunite her with her beloved Edouard. Following this, there appears to be a great act of betrayal as Sophie is arrested and thrown into a prisoners cart to take her away to one of the camps. This my dear reader, is the stunning cliffhanger you are left with when the story jumps to current day and we begin the story of Liv. And here, you wonder how on earth is Ms. Moyes going to connect these two people?

Liv is grieving four years following the death of her young husband. She is steeped in debt yet refuses to sell the “Glass House” that David has built and where every memory of him remains. Not only is she steadfast in her refusal to give up the house, she refuses to engage with life and will not set David’s memory aside to move forward. One painting in her bedroom, a gift bought by her husband on their honeymoon, is what gives her joy, hope and happiness. “The Girl You Left Behind” means everything to Liv.

One night, feeling particularly alone and bereft, Liv sits at a bar and drinks herself into oblivion. Here also sits Paul McCafferty, an ex-cop that has now established a business of returning art stolen during WWII to their rightful ancestors. What a sad twist of fate for Liv, for Paul becomes a person she can finally see herself moving on in life with, but his next big case happens to be finding and returning The Girl You Left Behind to Sophie’s family.

Of course I will not be sharing any of the details of what happens to Sophie, Liv or Paul, but will say that once again, JoJo Moyes has crafted incredibly rich and endearing characters. So vivid, so true, so wonderful these people were. While I do have to say I grew closer to Sophie and her story, the character of Paul and the one peculiar friend of Liv’s named Mo were so cleverly and expertly drawn it truly felt as though you were right beside them every step of the way. There is a scene where Paul does something so endearing for Liv that I felt like I could jump the man’s bones. I fell completely in love with him.

A warning label needs to be affixed to the covers of her books however, because you will become so deeply involved that when you close the pages of the book, you will blink in the harsh light of reality and come to realize that an entire day, afternoon and evening has disappeared. Poof! My poor dogs were left to quench their thirst from the toilet and my kids were closely clustered around the pantry stuffing themselves with crackers as a way to quell their hunger.  I had sorely neglected them, lost all touch with reality  — this is how deeply involved I became when reading this tremendously affecting story. And yes, of course, tissues are required when you reach the ending.

Again, a wonderful, wonderful tale to close out my reading for 2013.