Book review for Women’s History Month: The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

Not sure why I read this book during Women’s History Month, but because I don’t believe in coincidences, I must have been guided by my “higher power” to take it off the shelf after reading one of the author’s other books (future posting) and finding a
new writer who writes so well I don’t want the books to end! She seems to be too young to write such deep feelings, but she certainly knows the human heart.

 

I chose this particular book for Women’s History Month because in this novel the book moves back and forth between WWI and the first decade of the millennium, with the link being a portrait of Sophia, painted by her husband  before he goes off to war and the millennium character Olivia (Liv), whose husband purchased the portrait for her on their honeymoon from a woman whose mother dies and was part of her possessions. Learning about WWI through the novel was quite interesting, since we did not study that war in school.

Both women seem to be facing terrible times. Sophia is not sure where her husband is, and while she waits to hear from him, has been forced to feed German soldiers at her hotel establishment, the Germans having invaded France during WWI. The commandant seems to have fallen in love with the portrait of Sophia, and perhaps even Sophia. Liv, whose husband died suddenly four years after their marriage, loves the painting of Sophia because her husband said it reminded him of her. It hangs on Liv’s wall in the glass-enclosed house her husband, an avant-garde architect, designed for them when they first married.

Enter a young man, Paul, who happens to work at returning paintings stolen by the Nazis in WWII to their rightful owners. And even though this painting is from WWI, the law seems to be working retroactively.  Paul and Olivia are attracted to one another, having met on the fourth anniversary of Olivia’s husband David’s death. She gets drunk on that night at the bar owned by Paul’s brother. Her purse is stolen, so Paul helps her get back her purse and visits her at her home, where he spots the painting of Sophia, which he recognizes because the family of Sophia has already contacted him about its loss and return.

Both women are strong and vulnerable. Author Noyes has made them come to life in her book and this could easily be a movie. The part where there is a legal battle between Olivia as the owner of the portrait and Sophia’s heirs who claim it belongs to them reminds me of the movie, Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren, based on a true story. But this story, while fictitious, fascinated me even more so, because of the personalities of the two female characters are almost one hundred years apart in age, yet seem to operate with the same gut feelings. Both were terribly in love with their husbands, and yet still found/find the strength to go on when times become worse and even dangerous.

The book ends on a sweet, if not perfect, note for both women, having come to grips with their lives, holding onto the love of their spouses and having faith in the human spirit to meet the odds head on. As I noted above, choosing this book during Women’s History Month may seem coincidental, but I think not. I think I was supposed to find this author and read her book this month.

The book is published by Viking Press, released in 2012.  369 pages, ($27)

 

P.S. I recently received information from the Women’s History Museum project in Washington, DC. (www.womenshistory.org) I Googled the topic and came up with this excerpt, which gives a listing of all the women’s museums in our nation’s capital:

 

  • Women’s History Museums in Washington, D.C.

    www.tripsavvy.com/womenshistorymuseums

    Women’s History Museums in Washington, D.C. Daughters of the American Revolution Museum. National Museum of Women in the Arts. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is located in… Hillwood Museum & Gardens. The 25-acre estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post displays an impressive… …

     

    Also, I just read this month’s Smithsonian Magazine, which my husband subscribes to but I rarely read. This issue, however, features Women’s History Month articles. I was especially interested in the Education page entitled, “Written Out of History: A new study reveals just how few women are required reading in America’s schools. I may do more research on each of these women for future postings.

 

 

 

 

 

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