I run two book clubs here at the library, but I also have a group of friends who hold a book club. Sadly, I don't get there too often (mostly not enough time to read), but this month I was determined, so I picked up The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. Moyes is best known for the multiple-tissues needed Me Before You, made into a film last year (I needed multiple tissues for that too!). So knowing this, I was prepared for The Girl You Left Behind to break my heart. And it did; it really really did.
Sophie Lefevre lives in northern France in the midst of the First World War. She and her sister, Helene, are just managing to scrape by running their cafe, having just enough food for themselves, their brother, and Helene's children. Their town is occupied by the Germans, so nothing in their lives is actually easy.
Both Sophie and Helene's husbands are off on the front, and the women are missing their husbands terribly. Sophie, in particular is having a very hard time without her Edouard, a painter. Her comfort is the painting he made of her quite early in their relationship, which she keeps as a reminder of their love.
Flash forward to 2006 and that painting now hangs in the home of a London widow. The young woman, Liv, was given the painting by her husband, who died suddenly in his thirties. She has had the painting for many years, but suddenly, it has become the center of a restitution claim. Liv has to fight for what's right, but who decides that?
The book is invested in finding the truth of what the real history of the painting is, what happened to Sophie and Edouard Lefevre, and how to determine what is really right and wrong.
This book took me on a crazy journey and I became very invested in its outcomes. I didn't know what I was getting into with the book, since I'd only picked up due to the book club. At first I thought that the book was going to focus only on Sophie, which was a hard story to read for me. War-time tales can be rough to read. So when the focus abruptly shifted to Liv, it was almost like starting a new book.
The book is really about both women, and it could easily be two separate books about the different characters. The parallels between the two women were very interesting, considering the near-century between their lives. I found the whole case of restitution from the First World War to be a fascinating concept. I knew little about restitution cases, and the book really taught me a lot.
Ultimately, there was the examination of what is black and white, and where things fall on the spectrum between. Is grey really acceptable? Can some things be swept under the rug without consequences?
I definitely recommend picking this book up, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction. Even if you are not, this story was worth telling. It had mystery elements underlying the whole book, and the forward momentum never stopped. I'm the type of person who likes when I get so invested in a book that it is able to break my heart, so I do recommend keeping tissues handy if you, like me, are tenderhearted.