The Marriage of Opposites

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Alice Hoffman
The Marriage of Opposites

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman is a historical novel that takes place on both the Carribean island of St. Thomas and also in Paris, France. Rachel Pomie Pizzarro, our strong Creole female in this story will become the mother of French Impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro.

In 1807 when the novel begins, Rachel is only 12 and enjoys breaking rules, irritating her mother and rebels against this strict and dutiful woman. Her mother knows that behavior such as this will not be tolerated by the Sephardic Jewish community in which they live. Nevertheless, Rachel and her best friend, Jestine, a mixed-race daughter of the cook, are taught to read and are educated by Rachel’s father who is more relaxed about duty and convention than his wife.

By the time Rachel reaches her early twenties, her father has arranged a marriage for her with a businessman, father, and widower twice her age. This event secures the future of her father’s business, a rum-exporting operation on the island. When her husband dies several years later and Rachel finds herself the  mother of seven at an early age, she is distraught. Within several months, her husband’s nephew from France arrives to settle the estate and Rachel seizes control of her life, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair with the nephew that sparks a scandal affecting her entire family, including her favorite son Camille. This son will one day become the “father” of the French Impressionist movement and great artist in his own right.

Rachel had always longed for a visit to Paris where she had heard from her father during her early years about her ancestry but she had never been there. It takes the movement of her son Camille to Paris where he is to study art and painting to define the event which ultimately moves Rachel to Paris. There are convoluted themes within this novel but it is beautifully written and the enchanting locations become alive when described.

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Sue H., Reference

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