Simon & Schuster: 8/4/15
eBook review copy, 384 pages
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman is a highly recommended novel of historical fiction about the mother of painter Camille Pissarro.
Rachel Manzana Pomié grew up on the tropical island of St. Thomas in the early 1800s. Her father is a merchant on the island and her family was part of the Jewish community who settled there for religious freedom under the protection of Denmark. Her family brought an apple tree with them to the tropics because it is the basis for their name, but, although the apple tree lived, it never flourished. The family also survived, but did not flourish on the island. While her father taught her to read and doted on her, her mother is harsh and does not want a daughter. Her mother favors a nephew she adopted as a baby.
Rachel knows her mother's harsh tongue and manner, but she is decidedly an unconventional girl who just happened to live in a time not well suited for her strength of character, societal rule breaking, and love of reading. The family maid is a source of great comfort and support and her daughter, Jestine, is Rachel's life-long friend. Rachel longs to go to Paris, but the nephew is sent instead. Rachel is then married off to Isaac Petit, a widower over twice her age, to save the family business from financial ruin. Isaac has three children and Rachel quickly adds 3 more children to the family.
When Isaac suddenly dies, as a woman Rachel is left with nothing. Her husband inherited her father's business interests and now his nephew will inherit it all. Rachel is 29, caring for 6 children and about to give birth to a seventh. When the nephew, Frédérick, who is 22, arrives, it begins a love affair of the heart and a marriage that breaks Jewish laws and causes them to be outcasts in society. From their marriage Jacobo Camille Pissarro is born.
Hoffman's expressive writing style, rich in descriptions, folklore, and historical fact, is well suited for this novel. She manages to capture life on St. Thomas in the 1800's and brings Rachel to life, showing her formative years, island superstitions, struggles, and determination. There is some magic realism thrown into the story. While closely following the historical facts, Hoffman embellished and added some characters for depth.
The Marriage of Opposites will appeal to those who enjoy historical fiction - especially historical fiction that is well well-written, carefully researched, closely follows historical facts, and realistically and accurately portrays the historical time, place, and setting. While it does move a tad bit slow at times, The Marriage of Opposites brings a small part of history to life.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Simon & Schuster for review purposes.