The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Publisher’s Description: Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.
Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Psst, have you ever dealt with book hangover? You know, one of those situations where you’ve finished a book and you’re not quite sure what you want to read next and nothing seems like it could possibly measure up… Anyhoo, a few weeks ago, I was dealing with a major book hangover and I remembered the public library’s e-book borrowing system, 3M Cloud Library. One of the features of the 3M Cloud Library is book recommendations. I decided to browse the “literary” section and see what was available.
That’s when I found Alice Hoffman’s The Marriage of Opposites. Now, I have read some of Alice Hoffman’s work but when I started reading this book, I was very pleased at how good it was. I had forgotten how wonderfully she writes. The characters that she creates, the environment that she describes, the world in which these people are living out their lives is absolutely astounding.
The story follows the life of Rachel Pettit, the mother of Camille Pissarro, one of the fathers of French impressionism. Rachel Pettit lives in St. Thomas, which was a Danish colony, and grew up as a part of the Jewish community. One of the things that makes Alice Hoffman’s work so strong is that she delves into the history of the place where her stories are set. The Jews established a community after having fled Europe and other colonies in the Caribbean where they were no longer welcome. This particular colony was able to thrive due to some of the policies of the Danish government. The story of Rachel Pettit and her family is very much affected by those very same policies.
Rachel Pettit doesn’t dream of a life in the Caribbean, she dreams of a life in Paris, which influences the choices her famous son makes. The story is told in first person narrative from a few of the characters who all have a different perspective about the Pettit family and the Jewish community as a whole. Of course, there are also secrets that the characters keep from each other, sometimes even over generations, that influence peoples relationships. This particular story at its core is about the relationship mothers have to their children. Especially what sacrifices are willing to be made and how selfish choices affect that same relationship.
Alice Hoffman cuts right to the heart of the matter of what’s actually going on inside of each and every human. All of her characters have vast internal landscapes: longing, ambition, love, hate, passion, jealousy and fierce protectiveness of those loved. The characters reflect what each of us goes through by coming to terms with all of the secrets we keep from each other, those feelings that make us who we truly are and, once accepted, show us that we become more loving and more beloved in the eyes of those around us. I believe this to be Alice Hoffman’s true gift: that ability to reveal the inner lives of her characters and to show that each of us are fully capable of becoming whole and how much we lose by not showing that true self to others. I highly recommend this book with a five star rating. I don’t know if I would read this one again but I really want to read everything else that Alice Hoffman has written.
If you like this book…