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The Girl You Left Behind
by Jojo Moyes

Published: 2013-08-20
Hardcover : 384 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 7 of 7 members
From the New York Times?bestselling author of Me Before You, a spellbinding love story of two women separated by a century but united in their determination to fight for what they love most

Jojo Moyes’s bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has ...
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From the New York Times?bestselling author of Me Before You, a spellbinding love story of two women separated by a century but united in their determination to fight for what they love most

Jojo Moyes’s bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has struck a chord with readers everywhere. ?Hopelessly and hopefully romantic” (Chicago Tribune), Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker that asks, ?Whatever happened to the girl you left behind?”

France, 1916:  Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouard’s portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officer’s dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything?her family, her reputation, and her life?to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is?putting Liv’s belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Like Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress and Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, The Girl You Left Behind is a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with Moyes’s signature ability to capture our hearts with every turn of the page.

Editorial Review

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October 1916

I was dreaming of food. Crisp baguettes, the flesh of the bread a virginal white, still steaming from the oven, and ripe cheese, its borders creeping toward the edge of the plate. Grapes and plums, stacked high in bowls, dusky and fragrant, their scent filling the air. I was about to reach out and take one, when my sister stopped me. “Get off,” I murmured. “I’m hungry.”

“Sophie. Wake up.”

I could taste that cheese. I was going to have a mouthful of Reblochon, smear it on a hunk of that warm bread, then pop a grape into my mouth. I could already taste the intense sweetness, smell the rich aroma.

But there it was, my sister’s hand on my wrist, stopping me. The plates were disappearing, the scents fading. I reached out to them but they began to pop, like soap bubbles.



“They have Aurélien!”

I turned onto my side and blinked. My sister was wearing a cotton bonnet, as I was, to keep warm. Her face, even in the feeble light of her candle, was leached of color, her eyes wide with shock. “They have Aurélien. Downstairs.”

My mind began to clear. From below us came the sound of men shouting, their voices bouncing off the stone courtyard, the hens squawking in their coop. In the thick dark, the air vibrated with some terrible purpose. I sat upright in bed, dragging my gown around me, struggling to light the candle on my bedside table.

I stumbled past her to the window and stared down into the courtyard at the soldiers, illuminated by the headlights of their vehicle, and my younger brother, his arms around his head, trying to avoid the rifle butts that landed blows on him.

“What’s happening?”

“They know about the pig.”


“Monsieur Suel must have informed on us. I heard them shouting from my room. They say they’ll take Aurélien if he doesn’t tell them where it is.”

“He will say nothing,” I said.

We flinched as we heard our brother cry out. I hardly recognized my sister then: She looked twenty years older than her twenty-four years. I knew her fear was mirrored in my own face. This was what we had dreaded.

“They have a Kommandant with them. If they find it,” Hélène whispered, her voice cracking with panic, “they’ll arrest us all. You know what took place in Arras. They’ll make an example of us. What will happen to the children?”

My mind raced, fear that my brother might speak out making me stupid. I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders and tiptoed to the window, peering out at the courtyard. The presence of a Kommandant suggested these were not just drunken soldiers looking to take out their frustrations with a few threats and knocks: We were in trouble.

“They will find it, Sophie. It will take them minutes. And then . . .” Hélène’s voice rose, lifted by panic.

My thoughts turned black. I closed my eyes. And then I opened them. “Go downstairs,” I said. “Plead ignorance. Ask him what Aurélien has done wrong. Talk to him, distract him. Just give me some time before they come into the house.”

“What are you going to do?”

I gripped my sister’s arm. “Go. But tell them nothing, you understand? Deny everything.”

My sister hesitated, then ran toward the corridor, her nightgown billowing behind her. I’m not sure I had ever felt as alone as I did in those few seconds, fear gripping my throat and the weight of my family’s fate upon me. I ran into Father’s study and scrabbled in the drawers of the great desk, hurling its contents—old pens, scraps of paper, pieces from broken clocks, and ancient bills—onto the floor, thanking God when I finally found what I was searching for. Then I ran downstairs, opened the cellar door, and skipped down the cold stone stairs, so surefooted now in the dark that I barely needed the fluttering glow of the candle. I lifted the heavy latch to the back cellar, which had once been stacked to the roof with beer kegs and good wine, slid one of the empty barrels aside, and opened the door of the old cast-iron bread oven.

The piglet, still only half grown, blinked sleepily. It lifted itself to its feet, peered out at me from its bed of straw, and grunted. Surely I’ve told you about the pig? We liberated it during the requisition of Monsieur Girard’s farm. Like a gift from God, it had strayed into the chaos, meandering away from the piglets being loaded into the back of a German truck, and was swiftly swallowed by the bulky skirts of Grandma Poilâne. We’ve been fattening it on acorns and scraps for weeks, in the hope of raising it to a size great enough for us all to have some meat. The thought of that crisp skin, that moist pork, has kept the inhabitants of Le Coq Rouge going for the past month.

Outside I heard my brother yelp again, then my sister’s voice, rapid and urgent, cut short by the harsh tones of a German officer. The pig looked at me with intelligent, understanding eyes, as if it already knew its fate.

“I’m so sorry, mon petit,” I whispered, “but this really is the only way.” And I brought down my hand.

I was outside in a matter of moments. I had woken Mimi, telling her only that she must come but to stay silent—the child has seen so much these last months that she obeys without question. She glanced up at me holding her baby brother, slid out of bed, and placed a hand in mine.

The air was crisp with the approach of winter, the smell of woodsmoke lingering in the air from our brief fire earlier in the evening. I saw the Kommandant through the stone archway of the back door and hesitated. It was not Herr Becker, whom we knew and despised. This was a slimmer man, clean-shaven, impassive, watchful. Even in the dark I thought I could detect intelligence, rather than brutish ignorance, in his manner, which made me afraid.

This new Kommandant was gazing speculatively up at our windows, perhaps considering whether this building might provide a more suitable billet than the Fourrier farm, where the senior German officers slept. I suspect he knew that our elevated aspect would give him a vantage point across the town. There were stables for horses and ten bedrooms, from the days when our home was the town’s thriving hotel.

Hélène was on the cobbles, shielding Aurélien with her arms.

One of his men had raised his rifle, but the Kommandant lifted his hand. “Stand up,” he ordered them. Hélène scrambled backward, away from him. I glimpsed her face, taut with fear.

I felt Mimi’s hand tighten round mine as she saw her mother, and I gave hers a squeeze, even though my heart was in my mouth. And I strode out. “What in God’s name is going on?” My voice rang out in the yard.

The Kommandant glanced toward me, surprised by my tone: a young woman walking through the arched entrance to the farmyard, a thumb-sucking child at her skirts, another swaddled and clutched to her chest. My night bonnet sat slightly askew, my white cotton nightgown so worn now that it barely registered as fabric against my skin. I prayed that he could not hear the almost audible thumping of my heart.

I addressed him directly: “And for what supposed misdemeanor have your men come to punish us now?”

I guessed he had not heard a woman speak to him in this way since his last leave home. The silence that fell upon the courtyard was steeped in shock. My brother and sister, on the ground, twisted round, the better to see me, only too aware of where such insubordination might leave us all.

“You are . . . ?”

“Madame Lefèvre.”

I could see he was checking for the presence of my wedding ring. He needn’t have bothered: Like most women in our area, I had long since sold it for food.

“Madame. We have information that you are harboring illegal livestock.” His French was passable, suggesting previous postings in the occupied territory, his voice calm. This was not a man who felt threatened by the unexpected.


“A reliable source tells us that you are keeping a pig on the premises. You will be aware that, under the directive, the penalty for withholding livestock from the administration is imprisonment.”

I held his gaze. “And I know exactly who would inform you of such a thing. It’s Monsieur Suel, non?” My cheeks were flushed with color; my hair, twisted into a long plait that hung over my shoulder, felt electrified. It prickled at the nape of my neck.

The Kommandant turned to one of his minions. The man’s glance sideways told him this was true.

“Monsieur Suel, Herr Kommandant, comes here at least twice a month attempting to persuade us that in the absence of our husbands we are in need of his particular brand of comfort. Because we have chosen not to avail ourselves of his supposed kindness, he repays us with rumors and a threat to our lives.”

“The authorities would not act unless the source was credible.”

“I would argue, Herr Kommandant, that this visit suggests otherwise.”

The look he gave me was impenetrable. He turned on his heel and walked toward the house door. I followed him, half tripping over my skirts in my attempt to keep up. I knew the mere act of speaking so boldly to him might be considered a crime. And yet, at that moment, I was no longer afraid.

“Look at us, Kommandant. Do we look as though we are feasting on beef, on roast lamb, on filet of pork?” He turned, his eyes flicking toward my bony wrists, just visible at the sleeves of my gown. I had lost two inches from my waist in the last year alone. “Are we grotesquely plump with the bounty of our hotel? We have three hens left of two dozen. Three hens that we have the pleasure of keeping and feeding so that your men might take the eggs. We, meanwhile, live on what the German authorities deem to be a diet—decreasing rations of meat and flour, and bread made from grit and bran so poor we would not use it to feed livestock.”

He was in the back hallway, his heels echoing on the flagstones. He hesitated, then walked through to the bar and barked an order. A soldier appeared from nowhere and handed him a lamp.

“We have no milk to feed our babies, our children weep with hunger, we become ill from lack of nutrition. And still you come here in the middle of the night to terrify two women and brutalize an innocent boy, to beat us and threaten us, because you heard a rumor from an immoral man that we were feasting?”

My hands were shaking. He saw the baby squirm, and I realized I was so tense that I was holding it too tightly. I stepped back, adjusted the shawl, crooned to it. Then I lifted my head. I could not hide the bitterness and anger in my voice.

“Search our home, then, Kommandant. Turn it upside down and destroy what little has not already been destroyed. Search all the outbuildings, too, those that your men have not already stripped for their own wants. When you find this mythical pig, I hope your men dine well on it.”

I held his gaze for just a moment longer than he might have expected. Through the window I could make out my sister wiping Aurélien’s wounds with her skirts, trying to stem the blood. Three German soldiers stood over them.

My eyes were used to the dark now, and I saw that the Kommandant was wrong-footed. His men, their eyes uncertain, were waiting for him to give the orders. He could instruct them to strip our house to the beams and arrest us all to pay for my extraordinary outburst. But I knew he was thinking of Suel, whether he might have been misled. He did not look the kind of man to relish the possibility of being seen to be wrong.

When Édouard and I used to play poker, he had laughed and said I was an impossible opponent, as my face never revealed my true feelings. I told myself to remember those words now: This was the most important game I would ever play. We stared at each other, the Kommandant and I. I felt, briefly, the whole world still around us: I could hear the distant rumble of the guns at the front, my sister’s coughing, the scrabbling of our poor, scrawny hens disturbed in their coop. It faded until just he and I faced each other, each gambling on the truth. I swear I could hear my very heart beating.

“What is this?”


He held up the lamp, and it was dimly illuminated in pale gold light: the portrait Édouard had painted of me when we were first married. There I was, in that first year, my hair thick and lustrous around my shoulders, my skin clear and blooming, gazing out with the self-possession of the adored. I had brought it down from its hiding place several weeks before, telling my sister I was damned if the Germans would decide what I should look at in my own home.

He lifted the lamp a little higher so that he could see it more clearly. Do not put it there, Sophie, Hélène had warned. It will invite trouble.

When he finally turned to me, it was as if he had had to tear his eyes from it. He looked at my face, then back at the painting. “My husband painted it.” I don’t know why I felt the need to tell him that.

Perhaps it was the certainty of my righteous indignation. Perhaps it was the obvious difference between the girl in the picture and the girl who stood before him. Perhaps it was the weeping blond child who stood at my feet. It is possible that even Kommandants, two years into this occupation, have become weary of harassing us for petty misdemeanors.

He looked at the painting a moment longer, then at his feet.

“I think we have made ourselves clear, madame. Our conversation is not finished. But I will not disturb you further tonight.”

He caught the flash of surprise on my face, barely suppressed, and I saw that it satisfied something in him. It was perhaps enough for him to know I had believed myself doomed. He was smart, this man, and subtle. I would have to be wary.


His soldiers turned, blindly obedient as ever, and walked out toward their vehicle, their uniforms silhouetted against the headlights. I followed him and stood just outside the door. The last I heard of his voice was the order to the driver to make for the town.

We waited as the military vehicle traveled back down the road, its headlights feeling their way along the pitted surface. Hélène had begun to shake. Aurélien stood awkwardly beside me, holding Mimi’s hand, embarrassed by his childish tears. I waited for the last sounds of the engine to die away. “Are you hurt, Aurélien?” I touched his head. Flesh wounds. And bruises. What kind of men attacked an un-armed boy?

He flinched. “It didn’t hurt,” he said. “They didn’t frighten me.”

“I thought he would arrest you,” my sister said. “I thought he would arrest us all.” I was afraid when she looked like that, as if she were teetering on the edge of some vast abyss. She wiped her eyes and forced a smile as she crouched to hug her daughter. “Silly Germans. They gave us all a fright, didn’t they? Silly Maman for being frightened.”

The child watched her mother, silent and solemn. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see Mimi laugh again.

“I’m sorry. I’m all right now,” she went on. “Let’s all go inside. Mimi, we have a little milk I will warm for you.” She wiped her hands on her bloodied gown and held her hands toward me for the baby. “You want me to take Jean?”

I had started to tremble convulsively, as if I had only just realized how afraid I should have been. My legs felt watery, their strength seeping into the cobblestones. I felt a desperate urge to sit down. “Yes,” I said. “I suppose you should.”

My sister reached out, then gave a small cry. Nestling in the blankets, swaddled neatly so that it was barely exposed to the night air, was the pink, hairy snout of the piglet.

“Jean is asleep upstairs,” I said. I thrust a hand at the wall to keep myself upright.

Aurélien looked over her shoulder. They all stared at it.

“Mon Dieu.”

“Is it dead?”

“Chloroformed. I remembered Papa had a bottle in his study, from his butterfly-collecting days. I think it will wake up. But we’re going to have to find somewhere else to keep it, for when they return. And you know they will return.”

Aurélien smiled then, a rare, slow smile of delight. Hélène stooped to show Mimi the comatose little pig, and they grinned. Hélène kept touching its snout, clamping a hand over her face, as if she couldn’t believe what she was holding.

“You held the pig before them? They came here and you held it out in front of their noses? And then you told them off for coming here?” Her voice was incredulous.

“In front of their snouts,” said Aurélien, who seemed suddenly to have recovered some of his swagger. “Hah! You held it in front of their snouts!”

I sat down on the cobbles and began to laugh. I laughed until my skin grew chilled, and I didn’t know whether I was laughing or weeping. My brother, perhaps afraid I was becoming hysterical, took my hand and rested against me. He was fourteen, sometimes bristling like a man, sometimes childlike in his need for reassurance.

Hélène was still deep in thought. “If I had known . . . ,” she said. “How did you become so brave, Sophie? My little sister! Who made you like this? You were a mouse when we were children. A mouse!”

I wasn’t sure I knew the answer.

And then, as we finally walked back into the house, as Hélène busied herself with the milk pan and Aurélien began to wash his poor, battered face, I stood before the portrait.

That girl, the girl Édouard married, looked back with an expression I no longer recognized. He had seen it in me long before anyone else did: It speaks of knowledge, that smile—of satisfaction gained and given. It speaks of pride. When his Parisian friends had found his love of me—a shopgirl—inexplicable, he had just smiled, because he could already see this in me.

I never knew if he understood that I found it only because of him.

I stood and gazed at her, and, for a few seconds, I remembered how it had felt to be that girl, free of hunger, of fear, consumed only by idle thoughts of what private moments I might spend with Édouard. She reminded me that the world is capable of beauty, and that there were once things—art, joy, love—that filled my world, instead of fear and nettle soup and curfews. I saw him in my expression. And then I realized what I had just done. He had reminded me of my own strength, of how much I had left in me with which to fight.

When you return, Édouard, I swear I will once again be the girl you painted. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

At one point, the Kommandant asks Sophie if they can just “be two people” (p. 72). What did you make of this—did you ever find yourself sympathizing with the Kommandant or any of the German soldiers? Is there room for sympathy on both sides?

Does Édouard’s portrait of Sophie capture who she already was or who she had the potential to become?

Before you knew the truth about Liliane Béthune, how did you feel about the treatment she received at the hands of the other villagers?

Sophie strikes a deal with the Kommandant in hopes that he, in turn, will reunite her with Édouard. Would you be willing to make a similar trade? Would most men appreciate Sophie’s sacrifice?

Unlike Hélène, Aurélien angrily condemns Sophie’s relationship with the Kommandant. Why do you think Aurélien reacted as he did?

Have you ever experienced real hunger? If you were a French villager in St. Péronne, how far might you go in order to feed yourself and your loved ones?

How did you think Sophie’s story would end? Were you surprised by what Liv uncovered?

When Liv takes a group of underprivileged students on a tour of Conaghy Securities, most of them had never considered architecture as an art form. Why is this type of cultural exposure important for young people of all backgrounds?

Liv feels that she cannot go on without the portrait of Sophie—it is that important to her. Do you think a material object should hold such significance? Have you ever loved a piece of art or another object so much that you couldn’t bear to part with it?

Do you think the present–day Lefèvre family’s interest in the financial worth of The Girl You Left Behind—and their apparent lack of interest in its beauty—made their claim any less worthy?

Why does Liv ultimately choose to try to save the painting rather than her home? What would you have done in her position?

Is Paul right to fear that Liv would eventually resent him for the loss of the painting?

In general, if a stolen artwork is legally acquired by its current owner, whose claim is more legitimate: the new owner or the original owner and his or her descendants? Should there be a statute of limitations? What if the current owner is a museum?

From the publisher

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub


1. Is The Girl You Left Behind inspired by an actual case? What influenced your decision to set the historical part of the novel during World War I rather than World War II?

Yes, I read an article about a young woman war reporter in the Second World War who was left in charge

of one of Hitler’s stores of stolen art and given a valuable painting as a “thank–you,” and it got me thinking about how morality can become almost relative in times of war, even for good people. And then I saw something about occupied France in the First World War and realized I had heard so little about this part of history, and the two things slowly started to conflate in my mind.

2. What kind of research did you do for The Girl You Left Behind? Is there a real artist whose work you imagined as Édouard Lefèvre’s paintings?

Not one artist in particular. I went round the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, looking at the Impressionists on the upper floors, and I imagined Lefèvre as a mixture of many of the artists I saw.

3. You are clearly not an author who shies away from controversial subject matter. Your last novel,

Me Before You, is—in part—the story of a paraplegic man who cannot bear to live his life wheelchair–bound any longer. In The Girl You Left Behind, you use a possibly stolen piece of art as a springboard for both romance and a highly publicized claim for restitution. What draws you to these types of stories?

I love stories where the answers are not black or white; stories that make you think: what would I do in that position? And it’s often news stories that inspire me by prompting this exact question. I like to write about issues that have a bit of substance to them. Yes, my books have love stories, but I hope there’s a fair bit of grit in the oyster, too.

4. You exhibit tremendous empathy for Sophie and Liv, both of whom are unfairly condemned by public opinion. Have you ever found yourself—or someone you admire—in a similar situation?

No, thank goodness. But the tide of public opinion turning against you, especially in an age of social media, must be a truly terrifying thing, and it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to guess how it would feel to be on the wrong side of it.

5. As you illustrate in the novel, public sentiment generally sides with the claimant rather than the current owner in most art restitution cases. As a journalist, do you feel that the press takes advantage of its power to shape public opinion?

I think there is—rightly—a huge groundswell of sympathy for those who lost precious possessions in wartime. But the farther away from the original loss we get, the less clear it can become, especially if people have bought the item in good faith. When I researched the issue, I read academic papers on the legal costs

of reclamation and the length of cases, and it was clear that this has become something of an industry in itself—not always a good thing.

6. Do you find it easier to write historical fiction or stories set in the present day? Which do you prefer to read?

I read across all genres. I often think I prefer modern–day fiction, but two of the best books I’ve read recently—Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber—are set several centuries ago.

7. You wrote an article for a British newspaper titled “Writing a Sex Scene Is an Impossible Task.” What have you learned about writing sex scenes?

I’m definitely getting a bit braver about writing sex scenes, but they’re so full of pitfalls that it’s often easier not to. The biggest problem is using terminology that doesn’t sound like either porn or a biology textbook. You don’t want anything that’s going to pull the reader out of the narrative, no matter how briefly.

8. What is the most memorable comment you’ve ever received from a fan?

Oh, since Me Before You there have been so many—there was a point where I couldn’t keep up with my e–mails. But the one that moved me most was from a woman whose sister had committed suicide at Dignitas the previous year and who said that had she known what the book was about she wouldn’t have picked it up. But having read it, she felt she had a better insight into her sister’s thought processes, and that it had given her closure. That’s an amazing thing to be told.

9. Your love stories are famously complicated, something many readers can relate to. How do you construct the arc of a romantic relationship?

Oh, that’s a “how long is a piece of string” question. It really depends on the characters and the plot. But the thing I have come to see as true for every book over the years is that it is okay to make characters complex and flawed and not always able to do the right thing—and that keeping them apart is as important as

getting them together.

10. What are you working on now?

Several things—as seems to be the case these days. I’m writing the screenplay for the film version of Me Before You, and I’m doing the final edits for my next book, which will be out in the United States in summer 2014. It’s a book about five very different characters—a single mother, a disgraced dotcom tycoon, a math prodigy child, a bullied teenager, and a dog called Norman—who end up on a road trip together.

From the publisher

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Beth O. (see profile) 09/12/16

  "The Girl you Left Behind"by Veronica P. (see profile) 06/13/14

I did not like this book as much as Me Before You.

  "The girl you left behind"by Diane S. (see profile) 04/19/14

This book was difficult to put down. I read it cover to cover in two sittings.

  "The Girl you left behind"by Jeannette F. (see profile) 04/18/14

The book was great ! Very well written.

by Debby S. (see profile) 04/15/14

  "The Girl You Left Behind"by Barbara M. (see profile) 11/30/13

Wonderful story....interesting with the two different realms of time coming together to explain what happened to the families. There were times the book left me confused in regards to some o... (read more)

  "AMAZING!"by Kristi F. (see profile) 08/29/13

Jojo, this was so so FABULOUS! I loved this story; the mystery, the relationships, characters, the writing....well I loved everything. You have to read this right away because I said so and because you... (read more)

  "Another hit by Moyes"by Dini B. (see profile) 08/07/13

I received an Advance Reader Copy through netgalley.com. The US version will be released August 20, 2013.

I first discovered the talent of Jojo Moyes when I read Me Before You (5*). My n

... (read more)

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