It is unusual to have two novels released within a few months of each other with a focus on France during wartime, and I thought I would give them a try. The intriguing title JoJo Moyes captured my interest.
It all started with a painting. On the outskirts of Paris, inn-owner and artist Edouard Lefevre captures the beauty of his wife, Sophie, on a canvas worthy of Matisse. But at the outbreak of war, Edouard leaves Sophie and his family behind to fight at the front. With the enemy encroaching on every village, it is not long before both Sophie and the painting are noticed by a sophisticated German Kommandant. Sophie devises a plan to use her painting as a bargaining chip for freedom for her captured husband. But has Sophie only put herself at risk?
Author Moyes picks up the action again in the present day where the painting, now known as “The Girl You Left Behind, ” is center stage. The young widow Liv Halston cherishes this painting as the one link with her deceased husband, who gave her Sophie’s portrait as a wedding gift. But the descendants of Lefevre are fighting in court to reclaim this part of their heritage. As Liv prepares her court case, she uncovers the astounding history of Sophie, and who really owned the painting.
The world is again at war in 1942 in the novel The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. With the German occupation of Paris, the threatened Jewish people begin to go into hiding. A gentile architect, Lucien Bernard, is asked by a fellow architect to create a space within a room to hide a wealthy Jew. Without true commitment to the cause, Lucien begins his scrutiny of a walled space with different eyes. What makes a good hiding place – an architectural column or a grate in the kitchen floor? Is the money offered to him enough, when he is at risk of discovery by the Gestapo, and to suffer the same terminal fate as the Jews?
After the first design, he is ensnared by the challenge to create unique “priest holes” (first mentioned during the persecution of priests in Elizabethan times). By day, he aids in the design of a German munitions plant, and in spare moments at night, scribbles intricate designs to match the secret places in different houses, trying to outsmart the Nazis.
As the real story emerges, Lucien becomes the hunted in trying to secure a future for those around him and those he begins to care for. I enjoyed the building tension and the pacing of Belfoure’s work. It’s great to see the main character develop against the backdrop of Parisians struggling to survive during horrific wartime, placing love and honor above all else.
This story should appeal to those who were caught up in the film Schindler’s List or Tatiana de Rosnay’s book Sarah’s Key. For anyone impacted by the ravages of war, regardless of time or location, their haunting stories remain.