2 women. 2 stories. 1 painting.
Sophia lives in a small France town with her sister, brother and their children. It’s World War 1 and the community has lost it’s spirit, it’s sense of fun, it’s joy. Most of their husbands are gone to fight in WWI, the Germans have taken over the town, and life has altered dramatically. Still, the women soldier on. They try to keep life as normal as possible- and some make desperate choices- not for themselves; but for the greater good.
Sophia is one of these women. The Germans have decided they need a new place to stay and eat and her hotel is the desired location. Much as Sophia does not want them in the building (similar to how Scarlet felt about Yankees at Tara) she recognizes that cooking for them might provide her family with a few extra morsels- and the hope to get through a dark period. One of the Germans, the new Kommandant, takes a liking to a beautiful painting. A painting that Sophia’s husband did of her- back in a time where life was good, food was plentiful and hard times were not known. Sophia is repelled and yet drawn to this man, this man who can talk art, who can almost remind her of life before the war. For her family, she is nice to the Kommandant- and they, at times, learn to see each other beyond the role of enemies. One day, Sophia learns news about her husband- news that hurts her deeply. She knows that she must try to have her husband brought back home- and sets out to use the 1 thing she has that the Kommandant wants…. the painting. Only, her plan does not go exactly as she hoped- and Sophia, like other women making hard choices, finds her life is about to get infinitely worse.
Nearly a hundred years later, Liv, lives in London. Liv is young and bright- and she has incredible sorrow in her life. Her husband has passed away and the only thing that brings her joy is a painting that he gave her. The painting is of a woman, of a woman from a long ago time. It’s striking and means a great deal to Liv.
The painting also means a great deal to other people- as the painting is the painting that Sophia had. As Liv fights to cling to a memory of her husband, one of the things that he gave her that brings her joy- she has to consider other things. Should the painting be returned to it’s original owners? Is the painting rightfully hers since her husband bought it?
The painting is so much more than a painting. It’s love, trust, putting others needs ahead of your own- the painting is a reminder of good times, of a life before everything changed. The painting has value- but the true value is not tangible.
Traveling With T’s Thoughts:
Jojo Moyes takes a real life event (WWI) and creates a fictional story that is heartbreaking. Utterly heartbreaking. Then because she’s not quite finished breaking the reader’s hearts- she adds a current story with a woman who has lost her husband and may lose the 1 thing that is the last thing he gave her. While Sophia’s story is ten times more compelling than Liv’s- Sophia’s was almost too hard, for me as a reader, to enjoy. This is the fault of Jojo- as she takes situations, gives them a twist, and makes the reader feel like they are right there suffering along with the character.
The Girl You Left Behind is a book for book clubs- the club members can debate the actions of Sophia and Liv, as well as what they think they would do if in same situation. However, be prepared- because while as a reader you might have a strong reaction to what the right thing to do with The Girl You Left Behind is, by the end of the book- you may be questioning everything.
The Girl You Left Behind is the October She Reads selection. The above thoughts and opinions are mine alone. To see what the other reviewers at She Reads thought about The Girl You Left Behind, please visit here.