I received this book from SheReads in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes is a unique novel to me because it is one that deals with World War I and stolen artwork. I can honestly say that I never have read a book on that topic before!
The Girl You Left Behind is told with a dual narrative. Sophie lives in France with her sister Helene, where they run their deceased parents’ hotel. It also has a restaurant, which is frequented by the locals. That is, until the Germans decide to commission the restaurant as their new dinner locale.
Sophie reluctantly becomes close to the German Kommandant who seems to have a crush on her. She’s not a fan, but it’s in her best interests, and in the best interests of the family, to play along. The Kommandant also has a fascination with a beautiful painting that Edouard made of Sophie.
Fast forward to almost present day, and we meet Liv, a young widow. She lives in a huge home that her successful architect husband designed. He has since passed away, suddenly, and it’s something Liv is having a tough time dealing with.
Turns out, Liv has the painting that Edouard made, but his family is trying to requisition it. They claim that it was wrongfully taken and is therefore required under law to be returned to the rightful owners. But Liv isn’t going to give up the treasured painting without a fight.
I loved Sophie’s story. It was touching and kept me interested the entire time. In fact, when the narrative switched to Liv, I was kind of disappointed. But that’s because I had a really tough time liking Liv.
Liv felt like she had the right to keep the painting because her husband purchased it and because this potential thievery happened 100 years ago. But if it was stolen, then it doesn’t matter that Liv and her husband bought it.
For instance, if you purchased a car that was (unknowingly to you) stolen, you wouldn’t be in trouble, but you couldn’t keep that car. So I had a tough time liking Liz for that.
Also, while this is WWI, not WWII, it still does not mean that requisitioned items should not be returned to their rightful owners. When Jewish people had their things stolen and their houses taken during WWII, if they returned they were able to reclaim their home and (sometimes) some possessions. I believe that is the right thing to do. Liv felt the opposite about her painting.
Another thing that bothered me about Liv was that in one scene she said that she packed up bags of clothes to throw out. “She throws out two garbage bags of old clothes” (p. 343). Ahhhh! Throw out????? Why not donate?
Now you might say, “Well, maybe Liv just wasn’t very charitable.” That would make sense, but it’s not true. She made friends with the homeless “neighbor” and made her tea often. So I find it disconcerting that Liv would trash clothing when she knows how much something as little as tea means to someone who has very little.
If Liv’s belief that she is right and should be able to keep the painting she purchased, even if 100 years ago it was stolen, isn’t something that will bother you, then you might enjoy The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. Sophie’s story is captivating, and I couldn’t wait to keep reading her sections.
Do you think a painting that was purchased fairly but had been stolen in the past should go back to the original owners?