Looking for a great book club book? Well look no further. Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind has something for everyone with great conversation starters. The book begins in German occupied France during World War I. Sophie is one of two sisters helping to keep the family inn operating and the home fires burning until husbands, fathers, and sons return from war. Sophie’s husband is a man full of love for life. As an accomplished artist, he sees the world in vivid color. Sophie captivated him from the start. This blessing turns into a curse. Like The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, this novel spans two time frames. Moyes transitions between past and present seamlessly. Each time she gives just a hint to the unraveling of the many mysteries wrapped within the pages. There’s questions about art work, the aftermath of war, and love.
I greatly enjoyed Moyes’ writing style. There are points within the book that the writing is so vivid and the choices of the characters so demanding that I could physically feel their pain or joy in my own body. These are the decisions, and there are more than one, that would create great discussion within a book club. If you enjoyed either The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood, or The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman, you would definitely enjoy this as well.
The recipe for this selection is an excellent tie in – at least in my head. The book has an opening scene in which the Germans are conducting a late night search of the hotel. They are in search of a pig. With food in short supply, all livestock was required to be turned over to the military of sustenance. Bread is also a commodity within the town of those withering away and used as a tool to designate those whom are considered lesser. Combining these two, I bring you one of my favorite memories from Europe. At Coleman Barricks in Mannheim, if a soldier stayed through on the weekends, it was necessary to go to the military prison to eat. The regular mess hall was not staffed during the weekends. Well, no one wants to eat in a prison, so we booked butt out of the area for each weekend, grabbing breakfast on the road. Bakery stands offered this fantastic selection which I love to treat my family with now:
Pretzel bread (courtesy Fleischmann’s) with swiss cheese & bacon
1 c milk
2 T butter
2 T brown sugar
2-1/4 t yeast
2 t salt
3 c all-purpose flour
3 quarts water
3/4 c baking soda
1 t water
crumbled crisp cooked bacon
sliced swiss cheese
Heat milk & butter until between 100° to 110º; butter will not melt. Combine with yeast & brown sugar in a large bowl. Stir in salt & 2 c flour, beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour, or until double in size.
Preheat oven to 400º
Combine boiling solution and bring to a boil. Punch dough down and divide into equal pieces. Form into a tight, smooth ball. Boil each loaf for a total of 2 minutes (1 minute then flip 1 minute longer). Remove loaves from pot using slotted spoon and place on greased baking sheet.
Brush with egg wash & cut down the middle (this will hold your bacon later). Bake for 15 minutes then reduce temperature to 350º for an additional 8 – 10 minutes. Fill center of the cut mark with bacon bits. Top with a slice of swiss cheese. Pop back into the oven until cheese melts.