The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman is the story of Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro, the mother of painter Camille Pissarro, the man responsible for creating Impressionism. We began hearing buzz about this book approximately one month prior to it’s August 4, 2015 release date. While only one of us is an avid art fan who was eager for an opportunity to learn more about Camille Pissarro’s family, we were all interested in reading the latest Alice Hoffman book. Thanks to Netgalley we were able to get an advanced copy of the book to read and review.
The Marriage of Opposites takes in the 1800s on St. Thomas island the town of Charlotte Amalie, a town that is both entrancing and harsh. Established as a refuge during the Inquisition the town is the home of a small Jewish community. The town is introduced to the reader through the eyes of a bright and hopeful Rachel who explains the history of her home and people. It is soon made apparent that Rachel herself is different from those around her. Though she learns, like the girls around her, what her proper place and responsibilities are Rachel dreams of living in Paris. Rachel desires more than living out her life in the close knit community as a wife and mother.
Like most girls in the that time period Rachel put aside her childhood dreams and reluctantly embraced the responsibilities of womanhood. After entering an arranged marriage with a man 30 years older than herself Rachel became more or less resigned to her life as it was. When Rachel suddenly finds herself widowed everything changes. For the first time in her life Rachel falls in love and decides to ignore traditions and proprieties by marrying the nephew of her late husband. The fact that the man is also French and seven years her junior does not help the situation insofar as the town is concerned. Rachel is forced to persevere in spite of the disregard of her community and the story continues to follow her life and those of her children taking us through the early years of her son Camille’s life.
The book takes place over a span of about 60 years and includes a large number of historical events and figures. Alice Hoffman clearly spent a good deal of time researching and making sure certain events within her novel corresponded with the correct dates. Anyone who has read any type of historical fiction or romance with glaring errors will appreciate the time Hoffman dedicated to writing The Marriage of Opposites. The cast of characters such as neighbors, friends, and employees are fictional; Hoffman writes these characters so well that to the reader they become living, breathing, people whose fictional histories seem as rich any actual historical figure.
Those who have read other Hoffman works will recognize, and enjoy, her highly visual style. She is not only able to show the reader the world she creates in The Marriage of Opposites, she is able to suck you into that world. Reading this book will make you long to travel to the Caribbean islands or book a flight to Paris. Alice Hoffman has created another romantic masterpiece that any reader, be they a fan of her work or not, will be able to enjoy.