by JoJo Moyes
Pamela Dorman Books, August 2013
The Light in the Ruins
by Chris Bohjalian,
Doubleday, July 2013
What would the today’s writers do for villains without the German army invading European countries in the first half of the twentieth century. German soldiers are the most likely evildoers in more than half of the novels that I read. I just finished two books where this was true so I thought I might review them together. The talented writer JoJo Moyes (Me Before You) has penned The Girl You Left Behind, a novel of the German occupation of France in WWI. Chris Bojhalian (The Double Bind, Midwives) has just released Light in the Ruins a story centered on the German occupation of Italy in WWII. While very different in tone these stories have a lot in common -the villains the loathsome Germans - the moral dilemmas people face in dealing with an occupying enemy - the heart wrenching losses that people suffer during war and lastly the fact that both books alternate between past and present events.
Light in the Ruins like so many of Bojhalian’s books is hard to characterize. It is part murder mystery, part historical drama , and part romance and has a decidedly dark tone to it. The protagonist is Serafina who served with the Italian partisans during the German occupation. Ten years after the end of the war Serafina is a police detective in Florence investigating the murder of an Italian woman whose husband and two children were killed by the Germans. Serafina was badly burned in the waning days of the occupation and has dim memories of those days. As the investigation continues Serafina comes to realize that she has crossed paths with the murder victim during the war. When another family member is killed all signs point to events that occurred during the war driving the killer. The wartime story is interspersed with the murder investigation. This story is very well plotted with characters that are strong and real. There are no happy endings here but this is an absorbing story.
The Girl You Left Behind has a lighter tone to it. The first half of the book tells of the French woman Sophie Leferve who runs a hotel/restaurant with her sister in 1916. Her beloved husband Edouard, an artist is fighting at the Front. The Germans occupy the town and the Kommandant takes an interest in Sophie and a painting of Sophie that her husband did. The narrative describes the hardships and cruelties inflicted on the French people during this occupation In order to save her husband who is now a POW Sophie contemplates giving in to the Kommandant’s sexual demands to gain his release. The story abruptly shifts to modern day about half way through the book. A young widow Liv, now owns Sophie’s painting and sees it as her most valued possession because it was a gift from her late husband. The Leferve family is claiming that the artwork was looted during war and it is rightfully their property. As Liv comes to know and investigate Sophie’s life she grows attached to her. Throughout this part of the story Liv is slowly falling in love with Paul, an investigator working for the Lefevre family. In the court contest over the painting the rest of Sophie’s story is told. I liked this book and I fear I have not done a very good job in the plot summary. While the story is complicated, it is engrossing, well written and a great read! The ending is somewhat fanciful but who doesn’t like a love story that turns out well every now and then. Both books are highly recommended!
I read a copy of The Girl You Left Behind provided by the publisher. I read a copy of The Light in the Ruins that I borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia