Monday, August 19, 2013

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindThe Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Product Description: In the small French town of St. Péronne, Sophie Lefèvre is struggling under the German occupation. It is 1916, and with her husband (and most other men) fighting at the front, she is barely keeping the family restaurant—Le Coq Rouge—afloat under the strict and unforgiving rationing. To combat the pain of a starving belly and despite the fact that it draws unwanted attention to her family, Sophie defiantly keeps the portrait her artist husband painted of her up on the wall. Seeing it transports her back to their lives in Paris—full of good food and joie de vivre. When the painting catches the eye of the new Kommandant, Sophie becomes the object of his obsession. As he spends more time at Le Coq Rouge, Sophie is drawn into a dangerous bargain with the German officer as she tries to protect those she loves the most.

Almost a century later, Liv Halston is living under the shadow of her young husband’s sudden death and a growing debt. She lives in the gorgeous flat he designed for them, but her lack of a steady job means she can no longer afford to keep the show place that should have been her home forever. Her prized possession, given to her by her husband as a wedding present, is the same portrait that hung on Sophie’s wall in 1916. Enter Paul McCafferty; when Liv meets him during a chance encounter, she starts to feel like life may have something in store for her yet. But Paul’s work lies in the restitution of art lost and the spoils of war. In a cruel twist, his next case: the portrait of Sophie that Liv loves most in all the world. For Liv, her belief in what is right will be put to the ultimate test.

My thoughts: My new historical fiction interest is WWI.

The book begins in a small village in France that is currently occupied by the German army. All communications have been severed and the story features Sophie, the middle child of three (older sister, Helene and Aurelian, teenage brother). A new Kommandant has arrived. He is more intelligent than the former Kommandant who was brutal and cruel without reason. This Kommandant seems to possess more humanity and perhaps some compassion. Both Sophie and Helene's husbands are fighting in the war and are away. They try to keep their little restaurant afloat alone. It is in this restaurant that the Kommandant sees the painting that Sophie's husband rendered in the manner of Mattise. The Kommandant is enamored with the painting thus by Sophie.

Herein lies the conflict. Both parties are bound to be enemies of one another. They each have their parts to play and feel uncomfortable stepping out of their roles hence rarely do so. The story abruptly seems to end at a point where it is unclear whether or not they have come to an agreement or not. The agreement would free Sophie's husband but the price is questionable.

Next story is about Liv, a widow living in a home she can no longer afford. Her husband's legacy to her is a beautiful portrait that hangs on her wall in a bedroom. It is the portrait of Sophie that Liv's husband bought on a street in Barcelona on their honeymoon. It was headed to the dumpster. Liv is right on the cusp of re-entering life when the story begins. It's been four years since her husband died and she meets Paul who, unbeknownst to Liv, has recently been tasked with finding a certain painting and returning it to its rightful owners who claim it was taken from their family as a spoil of war. Paul and Liv hit it off and all is moving forward until Paul sees the painting.

Herein lies the conflict. Both parties are bound to be enemies of one another. One believes he is fighting for what is right and good by returning what was stolen during a war a hundred years before. They other believes the painting rightfully belongs to her as she has sentimental ties to it regarding her husband. Neither budge on their stances and the case is eventually taken to court.

The two stories mirror each other in a subtle manner. The reader must carefully watch the similarities but the end result of the first story has a direct impact on the end result of the second story.

Skillfully written and beautifully executed.

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