The Marriage of Opposites

Written by Alice Hoffman
Review by Viviane Crystal

Rachel, the mother of Camille Pissarro, father of Impressionism, has dreamed of Paris from the time she was a child. To save her father’s failing business, Rachel marries Isaac, a man older than her own father. Up until then, Rachel was a contrary young girl who bucked every word of advice from her cold mother and their small Jewish community living on the island of St. Thomas. These people knew the history of exile and knew that conformity kept attention away, but Rachel couldn’t have cared less about all that. Later, as a widow, she meets Frederick, her husband’s relative, newly arrived from Paris to manage the family business. Rachel and Frederick’s love is the essence of this novel, along with a very special friendship with a native woman whose daughter is abducted. It’s also the story of Frederick’s and Rachel’s favorite son, Camille, another rebel whose passion for phenomenal shades of color and structure becomes his salvation despite his family’s wanting him to work in the stifling business of commerce. Secrets are gradually revealed that ironically involve the manner in which individuals and the community are saved from the passion of love, which transcends tradition at every turn. The story spans almost the entire 19th century, from St. Thomas to Paris, Venezuela, St. Croix, and back to Paris.

Alice Hoffman has created a literary masterpiece rife with a magical, realistic connection between humans and nature that envelops the characters’ thoughts, feelings, dreams and events on every page. Grim reality is juxtaposed against otherworldly hopes and passions. Beauty on so many levels is celebrated. This is magnificent, literate historical fiction, a must- read that this reviewer wishes had never ended!