The gist of this novel is basically that a painting ruins everyone’s lives. In The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, a portrait of Sophie Lefévre by her husband Édouard serves as the focal point of these two stories, set in 1916 and the present day.

In the twentieth century, Édouard leaves Sophie at home in a small town in France to fight on the front in World War I.
When that small town is occupied by Germans, the Kommandant develops a dangerous fixation on the painting, threatening everyone involved. In the modern day, Liv Halston receives that same painting, entitled “The Girl You Left Behind,” as a wedding gift from her husband just before his untimely death. When Édouard’s descendants emerge to fight for what they claim was looted by Germans during the war, the true ownership of the portrait is questioned, and the value climbs during a very public trial that becomes deeply personal for Liv and the others involved. Attempting to assert her right to the “Girl,” Liv tries to find out what really happened between Sophie, the Kommandant, and Édouard almost 100 years ago.

I loved this book because of the duality of the story and because the two parts had such a clear link in the portrait. I enjoyed the way Moyes structured Liv’s discoveries about Sophie’s fate going along with sections where Sophie narrated and told the story for herself. This had the effect of intertwining the two stories further and created suspense for me as I followed along with Liv’s investigations; it was an interesting experience to feel more excitement about finding out what had happened a century ago than what was happening at that moment.
Moyes did a great job of alternately giving me hope for Sophie and Liv, and making me feel that Sophie would never survive and Liv would lose Sophie’s portrait. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a novel that balances light and dark as easily as it does past and present.