[454]: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

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The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes | Penguin Canada | Hardcover, 384 pages
Publication date: August 13th, 2014 | Adult Fiction | Historical | Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars


“Will it buy my husband his freedom? Will…will I buy my husband his freedom?”

The story began in World War 1, most specifically during the invasion of France by Germany. In a small town ruled by German forces, Sophie and her sister ran a cafe/bar called, Le Coq Rouge. Situation was dire as both their husbands were fighting the war; and the only man in the house was their teenage brother full of spite and bad temper. One night, when the Germans came knocking at their door with an accusation of theft, Herr Kommandant came face to face with strong willed, Sophie Lefèvre.  She stood her ground, talked back to an officer, risked punishment by telling them exactly what they can do with their accusations. Herr Kommandant was stunned, and a little taken with the beauty who showed him no fear. That wasn’t the only thing that rendered him speechless, however. It was a painting of a girl full of life, desire and passion. Not at all the same girl who stood before him. It was Sophie, of course, painted by Edward Lefèvre, her husband before they got married.

Herr Kommandant was inexplicably drawn to the painting as much as he was drawn to Sophie. Every night since then, he commissioned Le Coq Rouge to provide dinner for him and for his troop. Sophie risked being hated by her neighbours, and their allegations of being a German sympathizer. But Sophie was not a selfish person, nor did she care of what they thought of her. As long as her family was eating, and she was able to provide leftover food to those in need, she continued to cook for Herr Kommandant. Besides, she’d become accustomed to his company; and their discussions about Art sated the ache of missing her husband.

But when the cruelty of the Nazi regime became even more obvious, and her husband was taken to a camp, Sophie had nowhere to turn to but Herr Kommandant.

Sophie’s story began when she was taken by the Germans on accusations of insurgence. When she thought that the Herr Kommandant came through with his promise for her to be reunited with her husband. What happens to the painting after that, becomes the crux of Liv Halston’s story, almost a century later.

I’m sorry to have written such a long summary for Sophie’s story. I feel that hers is the major draw for this book. I must admit that I felt guilty for being giddy with the forbidden romance between Kommandant Henchken and Sophie, mainly because romanticizing such a dark period in the world history is wrong. The lives lost at the time, the torture that the victims endured, and the preamble to what was to be an even more unimaginable horrors yet to come are just hard to think of but nightmarish.

Jojo Moyes captured the sombre and frightful air of a town besieged by enemies. It was a bleak world; one where supplies were controlled by the German forces, and people were hungry and afraid. Cut off from the world, post was hard to come by. Especially if they were expecting to hear from loved ones battling in the front. Here, we saw people doing what they can to salvage what was left of their riches (by burying them in their garden), and hiding missives received from loved ones. The author took great pains in making sure she captured the aura of the times, and have given justice to the sufferings of the French people.

The second part of this story is set in the modern times. It was the story of a struggling widow, Liv Halston. Her husband was a brilliant architect who died in his sleep, leaving her with an enormous house a single woman can’t afford. She’s already struggling to make ends meet, so when her purse was stolen on a night when she wanted to forget her troubles by getting smashed, she just about gave up. Enter Paul McCafferty, an expat who finds lost art for a living. Fate is such a cruel bitch. Instant connection between the two stymied by The Girl You Left Behind, a painting that was believed to have been stolen by the Germans during the war.

It was interesting to see the process of how some of the looted art during the war are being recovered. The amount of research required and the how such a delicate thing is being handled. A lot of people wouldn’t be so quick to contest a stolen art, so it was also interesting to see what kind of hostility a person would face in such a case where  they refuse to hand it over.

I could go on for miles about this book. All I can say is, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. This coming at the heels of reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl, another book that I’d gladly shout praises until practically everyone I know have added it to their shelves. All you need to know is that Jojo Moyes will not fail you. The woman can turn something uncouth into something understandable, and can incite empathy to someone whose political belief was rooted in hate.

  • Oh. So glad you loved this book Joy 😀 I think it sounds pretty amazing. But damn it. I am not ready to read Adult books yet :p BUT SOON. I hope. I really, really hope. And then I shall read this. Probably. I like the cover a lot. <3 and I love reading your thoughts about it. So so happy you loved it 🙂

  • I am actually interested in reading anything that has stories about that dark time. I didn’t know this has that kind of story. Kate recently read and reviewed this (and sadly, I haven’t had time to read her review, OMG!). She also liked this one, and I am more inclined to start the book.

    • I think you’ll like it, Dre. If anything, I think you’ll be interested in the one-sided affection that Kommandant felt for Sophie…that is, if you’re into romance and such. 😉

  • Wow, I’ve never heard of this book before, but thanks to you, it’s now on my TBR shelf. The premise sounds fascination to say the least. Great, detailed review! Thank you for introducing this to us (:
    Morrighan @ Elysian Fields.

    • No problem, Morrighan. Thanks for stopping by!

  • I’ve been meaning to try a Jojo Moyes book, and this could be the one for me!
    Jen @ YA Romantics

    • Yes! You most definitely have to try her books. I say hers are the kind of novels that YA readers would take on quite easily. I hope you’ll give her a chance soon.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jen.

  • I read and adored Me Before You this year. I’m not a big fan of historical romances, but Jojo Mojes is truly an amazing author, so this is a must read. I just need to be in the right mood for it. World war 1, Nazis…- it sounds like a really intense and emotional read. Great review, Joy 🙂

    • Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t as bleak as you would expect from such a theme. If you loved Me Before You, this one is a bit of a lighter fare. 🙂

  • I wouldn’t normally pick this up on my own, but I’m intrigued. 😉 I also want to find out how the author pulled off connecting two different stories from two different times… I hope I’ll be as enamored with this as you were. Awesome review as always, Joy! <3

    • Thanks, Aimee. It was really interesting how she connected the two women. I hope you’ll enjoy.

  • I haven’t read this yet, but I’m planning to actually! hahaha, I’m AM NOW SO EXCITED TO READ THIS. Because after I read Me Before You by the same author. I about almost died. haha. Great review Joy!

    I love the photography too! :>

    • Thanks, Jules. Yes, Me Before You nearly killed me too. I hope you’ll enjoy this one. 🙂

  • I hear great things about this author but I haven’t read any books yet. I should, they’re all releasing in France in fact but for now the synopsis didn’t attract me… we’ll see.

    • Aw. You should try and see if you’d like Me Before You instead. I just that Jojo Moyes is an author whose work should not be missed. Maybe someday? 🙂

  • Naomi @ Nomi’s Paranormal Palace

    This sounds like such an intense read. It is not something I usually pick up, but you have me curios about it. Nice review!

    Naomi @ Nomi’s Paranormal Palace

  • It’s strange, it seems like like I heard about this author last year (I know she’s been around longer) and now I see her books everywhere in the library, Target on NetGalley. It’s so strange because I’ve never noticed her before. Do you have a recommendation of which book to start with ?

    • If you’re not afraid to face some home truths that you haven’t really given much thought of lately, I’ll say read Me Before You. For a lighter read, her newest one is called One Plus One. Either way, she will make you laugh but be forewarned that MBY will make you cry ugly, ugly tears.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kat!

  • Me Before You tore apart my emotions, although the writing was amazing, so I’m not sure if I’m going to read anything else by her. This story does sound really interesting, though, especially since it takes place in two different times. Great review! 🙂

    • If you love Me Before You, then you’ll enjoy this one as well, Montana. And guess what? It won’t rip you into shreds!

  • Huh, not sure if I would normally pick this one up but your glowing review has me re-evaluating that for sure. Gorgeous review–this is one of my favorites! 🙂

    • Thank you. This book is a Keertana book, I think. It would be interesting to see how you’ll love it. I really hope you’ll give it a go.

  • I actually feel like kicking myself for not having read a book by Moyes yet, I actually have two of her books too, after blogger recommendations. I think I will have to binge read a few of them soon though, this one included, because I am truly fascinated by this book, I love just how much you found yourself drawn into these characters lives. Gorgeous review Joy!

    • This was such a beautiful book, Jasprit – despite the ambiance. I fell in love with the romance (?) between Herr Commandant and Sophie more than I did with Liv and Paul. I hope you’ll give it a chance some day.

  • Oh wow, this sounds amazing! Confession time: i almost stopped reading your review when I saw the historical reference because I prefer reading about people who are potentially alive and not too wrinkled today. But stolen art and romance? Yes please! Impressive that Jojo Moyes pulled this off. I like her style, but hadn’t pegged her as an author that would pen something that’s research-intensive.

    • She gave it justice for sure. The first book of hers that I read was about assisted suicide, so you know she doesn’t shy away from delicate subjects.

  • Wow, your reviews always leave me speechless. I have an odd fascination with romance stories set in the WWs… They shed so much light on what happened, and even more interest, how people can fall in love during such dark periods of time! Thanks for sharing this stunning review with us!

    • Thank you. <3 I try, and I guess you're right. It's nearly impossible with all the strife that surrounded them.

  • This sounds like a really dark book. It’s not a genre that I turn to but I admit that you make a compelling case for it! 🙂 I might want to check it out and you know how much I enjoy forbidden romances!
    Lovely review!

    • Thanks, Nick. It was a bit, just because it was set int WWI. But I don’t know, for some reason, romances in that era were more intense. 🙂

  • I don’t think it is wrong at all to romanticize it because if you think about it, the simple fact that they were able to fall in love at all during such a dark time, is amazing and heart warming. I love hearing about romances during the war for that very reason. It lets us know that not all was lost. There was some humanity left in the world.

    Wonderful review, I need to try this author!

    • That’s such a beautiful way to look at it, Ali. <3

  • “The woman can turn something uncouth into something understandable, and can incite empathy to someone whose political belief was rooted in hate.” An author who can do this is gifted, and Jo Jo Moyes sounds like a gifted writer. Glad the story brought you so many feels 🙂

    • Jojo Moyes is one phenomenal author. She’s definitely gifted!

      Thanks for stopping by!