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The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes
The Girl You Left Behind refers to two girls. One, Sophie, was left behind in France during WWI; the other, Liv, in the present day Pacific Northwest. Their stories intertwine through a painting that hangs in Liv's sterile home. The painting is of Sophie and was painted by her husband before she was left behind.
Sophie's journey consists of the struggle to keep her family and community together while the men are off fighting the war. Her town has been invaded by the Germans, and the small inn that her family owns that was once a safe place for the town to gather, now serves the needs of the Germans. Devastated by the separation from her husband, Sophie is put to the test: what would she do, how far would she go, to ensure that she was reunited with the love of her life?
Liv is struggling with loss of a different kind. Her husband has left her a widow at 28 years old. He was a prominent architect, and their home serves as a monument to him, his vision and their marriage. Unable to afford the upkeep, yet also unable to let it go, Liv holds on for dear life to all she has left of him, this home that he designed. Hanging in that home is the painting of Sophie that they purchased on their honeymoon.
It is the painting, the one they call They Girl You Left Behind, that serves as the focal point in the story. In Sophie's narrative, the painting is of her, painted by her beloved husband. She keeps the painting visible at the inn to remind her of who she was before the war, before she was left behind. The German Kommandant also notices the painting. It reminds him of all that he has left behind as well; Sophie reminds him of all he has left behind.
In Liv's narrative, the painting is a reminder of her husband, the promise of a bright future. It is a reminder of everything that she has lost. Moyes does an excellent job of telling these women's stories. She expertly weaves art through the lives of our characters. Painting and architecture lure us into the hearts of both Sophie and Liv. And we have to make some decisions for ourselves. Should a painting stay with a family even if they don't appreciate the beauty of it? If someone has legally purchased a stolen piece of art, should they have to give it back? And of course, the real questions Moyes is asking are how do we move on after we've been left behind? Can we pick up our lives after heartbreak? And what are we willing to risk to be with the ones that we love?
The Girl You Left Behind will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. I highly recommend you get to know Sophie and Liv, you will love the story that they have to tell!