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The Marriage of Opposites

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro; the Father of Impressionism.

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, Fréderick, 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 Fréderick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.

371 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2015

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About the author

Alice Hoffman

110 books21k followers
Alice Hoffman is the author of more than thirty works of fiction, including The World That We Knew; The Marriage of Opposites; The Red Garden; The Museum of Extraordinary Things; The Dovekeepers; Here on Earth, an Oprah’s Book Club selection; and the Practical Magic series, including Practical
Magic; Magic Lessons; The Rules of Magic, a selection of Reese’s Book Club; and The Book of Magic. She lives near Boston.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,212 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews632 followers
October 27, 2019
I thought the "Dovekeepers" was absolutely a fantastic book.....
Yet... For some reason...I thought "The Marriage of Opposites", was going to be a much more straight forward simple story, one that was even familiar to me. Simple.. Sweet historical love story. I was wrong... nothing was 'simple'. There was 'love'... but I was reminded ... How complicated love can be.
It's been a very long time since I've cried --bawling-- after completing a book. I literally set my Kindle down, closed it and cried and cried. Later, my husband came home... and he was kind to sit with me for about an hour while I shared to him the story -- as I tried to understand my own tears..... because I really don't think most people will cry at all.

I absolutely love Alice Hoffman, more and more. She 'really' is a master storyteller! I think Hoffman is becoming my new hero! Boy... I sure wish I could meet her!

I'm really speechless... still in tears. I'm not sure if it's because I'm Jewish or not... But what I was crying to... is my own Jewish History.
This story was 'not' about thousands of Jews being killed, it was not a war story yet in some ways this story was just as painful to me as if it were

When mothers are too critical of their sons and daughters, many other people suffer and many generations continue to suffer.
I felt sad that rules we're often too constricting for characters in this novel. It's strange, but I also felt sad when rules were not kept, because I understood the pain it was also. When religions become tribal....people are going to get hurt.

Rachel is a dominant character in the story, and even when she was being unreasonable, being mean, critical to her son (the famous painter), often like her mother was to her .....
I could still feel, and see, that she loved her son deeply. Her pride blocked her own expression of love.

I'll never forget this story. I just wish that in 2015... we might learn something.... in some ways...life does not look much different today than it did in the 1800's ..... Other than most of us do not have 11 children. lol

Beautiful - powerful- difference making novel for me!!!!!

Thank you - with all my heart to the publisher- Netgalley- and Alice Hoffman for the opportunity to read and share my thoughts about this book!
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
507 reviews1,489 followers
August 30, 2015
No doubt about it, Hoffman is a talented author. She's got a unique style and her stories are always so diverse. This one is no different. It is lavishly lyrical in spirits, visions and superstitions. She spins a story that is culturally rich with texture and history. It takes place in St. Thomas in the late 1800's and is split into 3 stories: Rachel, Jacobo and Lyddie. I adored Rachel’s story - her 1st marriage, arranged to a man significantly older, determined her life and what it spanned to be. Jacobo and Lyddie’s story, although interesting, is where my interest started to wain. Rachel’s story was fascinating and I grew attached to the character. Then the story shifted and she was no longer the protagonist. I felt disconnected and a little frustrated as the story left me demanding to know more of Rachel’s feelings and experiences. The rest of the novel just felt contrived and too long; or maybe I just felt it wasn’t where I wanted it to be. Overall I rate it a 3.5★
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews928 followers
December 4, 2021
“You couldn’t see love, or touch it, or taste it, yet it could destroy you and leave you in the dark, chasing after your own destiny.”

The Literate Quilter: The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The writing in Alice Hoffman’s Marriage of Opposites is extraordinary and engaging! Set on St. Thomas in the early 19th century, our main character, Rachel, refuses to live by the rules. That’s a problem: the community of Jews who have taken refuge here don’t want to be noticed. And Rachel’s behavior is sure to get them noticed. We follow Rachel for quite some time before switching to another point of view character. At first, I wanted to stay with Rachel’s narrative, but I was soon immersed in the perspective of several other characters and became even more engaged.

Marriage of Opposites is based on the history of impressionist painter Pisarro and his rule-breaking parents. I’ll admit that this connection made the story more interesting, but there’s plenty to keep the reader engaged with the life stories presented in this novel. And fortunately, all the individual stories came together and made for a satisfying end to this intriguing novel! 4.5 stars.

“Perhaps I was drawn to stories in which people found their true desires because I was a stranger to myself.”
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
467 reviews672 followers
November 11, 2017
Reading The Marriage of Opposites really made me think.....The Rules of Magic is my favorite Alice Hoffman book, but have I found a new favorite? Oh yes, it is my new favorite as I adored this book. One of the things I love about Hoffman's books is that each one is so different. Yes, she has a running theme in many of her books and this one was no different....the color red, red haired women, birds, and of course, love (no magical realism in here, but not missed). But the stories she weaves are so unique and varied but utterly captivating.

The Marriage of Opposites is the story of Rachel Pissarro, growing up on the island of St. Thomas in the early 1800's. I enjoy visiting St. Thomas and seeing the land (though I'm more partial to Tortola right across the water via ferry). I enjoyed hearing of the lush lands, the foods, and the people from so long ago. Rachel was a strong young woman who spoke her mind and did what she wanted. Naturally, this ruffled many feathers in her community and within the Jewish families. Rachel was married to her fathers business partner to help save the business, and so her epic life began. The story moves back and forth between St. Thomas and Paris, France where Rachel has longed to visit. There are many rules of marriage and that of opposites is forbidden. But that does not stop Rachel. Eventually when her husband dies, she marries his nephew who is sent to the island to take over the business. And so begins the love affair that last many years to come. Though they are shunned due to this forbidden marriage. But Rachel does not care. She gives birth to many children, but one in particular is focused on. That is Camille Pissarro, the the Father of Impressionism. One of the wonderful things of this book is that it's part true story, and part fiction. Camille was a real person, a very well known painter in France, and his mother was Rachel, who gave birth to many children. Hoffman weaves this true tale but adding in more details of their lives. This is quite the family saga drawn over many years and many people.

I listened to the audio version of this which added to the beauty of this book. The narrators were wonderful, switching between the voice of Rachel, Camille, and a 'narrator' telling this amazing story. If you can't tell by now, I loved this book. I'm so glad that I finally read it and will tell any Hoffman fan to pick this one up. I just need to figure out which Hoffman book to follow up with now. I think that is a tall order to fill.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,309 reviews2,191 followers
July 25, 2015
A work of historical fiction written by Alice Hoffman was all I needed to know and I was immediately interested in reading this book . I loved the Dovekeepers and while they are very different stories , Hoffman's lyrical writing and story telling had me fully engaged in this family saga. I have to admit that I did not know much at all about the artist , Camille Pissaro, and certainly nothing about his mother or his early life in St. Thomas or later in Paris .

I couldn't help but love Rachel , who defies the conventions of what a young Jewish girl in the early 1800's should be doing - by loving the books in her father's library and writing stories . Her family settled in St . Thomas as a result of the religious persecution of the Inquisition . While the later part of the book focuses on her artist son , the story belongs to the independent and headstrong Rachel but we also see in Camille the same traits .

In addition to the skillful way that Hoffman develops the character of Rachel , she has also drawn a whole cast of characters from Rachel's mother and father to the boy that her family adopts to her best friend Jestine whose mother is a servant in their home to Rachel's husbands . There are a number of characters whose lives are connected and there are a few secrets that are divulged towards the end of the story revealing things about them that we did not know earlier in the book and some things that they did not know that changed their fates .

In addition to these interesting characters , there are spirits, and an herbal healer and a woman who foresees the future . None of this overtook the reality of the multiple love stories ,all beautiful and some heartbreaking , the reality of the religious and racial issues. Then there is the gorgeous descriptions of St, Thomas that allow you to almost see the blue of the ocean and smell the flowers .

Hoffman tells us that she has kept close to the facts of Rachel Pizzaro's life, but that the characters outside of her family , friends and neighbors are her invention. All I can say is that she has skillfully woven these characters into the real story making for a story that held me from beginning to end in spite of a being a little slow moving at times . Thus 4 instead of 5 stars , but highly recommended.

Thanks to Simon and Shuster and Edelweiss
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
December 11, 2015

The Marriage of Opposites

op·po·site ˈäpəzət/
noun plural noun: opposites
a person or thing that is totally different from or the reverse of someone or something else.

"My father had told me that no matter how comfortable we might feel, we must live like fish, unattached to any land. Wherever there was water, we would survive. Some fish could stay in the mud for months, even years, and when at last there was a high flooding tide, they would swim away, a dark flash, remembered only by their own kind. So perhaps the stories they told of our people were true: no net could hold us.”
Rachel Pomie

At its very best historical fiction manages not only to sketch an accurate picture of the past, it also provides the reader with a sense of its characters's worldviews, their values and traditions, and the general sensibilities that hopefully reflect the true essence and spirit of the era.

The Marriage of Opposites is based on the true life of Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro, who was born in the island of St Thomas in 1795. She is better known as the mother of Camille Pissarro, a renowned painter that would become one of the fathers of the French Impressionism movement.

Alice Hoffman uses four narrative voices in the book, the first few chapters are told from Rachel’s perspectives. Later chapters are told from the perspective of Rachel’s second husband, her son, and her best friend’s daughter.

Rachel's grandparents had long ago fled France who, after living in St. Domingue (what is now Haiti in the island of Hispaniola), ended up moving to St. Thomas, an island that by virtue of an edict proclaimed by the King of Denmark in 1754 allowed Jews to become citizens and to freely practice their religion.

St Thomas and Paris during the 1800's, the geographical settings of this novel, couldn't have been more different. The very natural but rudimentary beauty of the New World is juxtaposed against the more polished, sophisticated culture of the Old.
This is the first one of many "opposite" narratives that are part of the stories told in this vivid, enchanted novel.
Most of the relationships are depicted within a frame of contrasts: people that come from different cultures, religions, races and social statuses: Free man & slaves, mothers & sons, men & women, husband and wives.

Even since the times of colonization, The Caribbean islands have represented the blending of two major cultures, Africa & Europe. Perhaps more than in any other place in the Americas, this region is a product of its history and its geography.

Initially colonized by the Dutch, St Thomas which is now part of the US Virgin Islands, was later on conquered by the Danish.
The island's economy became dependent on sugar plantations which in turn relied on slave labor and the slave trade.

St Thomas old map photo 4b27fda53e95d_135689b_zpsg7mf4kdy.jpg
A Colonial Map of Saint Thomas

One of the many topics explored in The Marriage of Opposites is the complicated relationship between the island's European settlers and the descendants of African slaves.

With its multicultural, multilingual population, Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas, must have sounded like a small-scale version of Babel. French was the language spoken by most citizens, but many also spoke English, Spanish and Portuguese.

By 1796, a small Sephardic Jewish community had settled in the island. Fleeing Spain and Portugal from religious persecution, they set roots and prospered in this tiny island nation. They also founded the Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim, a synagogue that is considered to this day, the oldest continuous-use synagogue on American territory.

Freedom, and more specifically freedom of religion, is another complex issue that is examined on this novel.

By the early 19th century, the indigenous people of the Caribbean had long ago been eradicated at the hands of the European conquistadors. But now, in addition to the slaves of African descent that lived in the island, the Jews are another group of people that have come fleeing persecution and who themselves had been slaves earlier in their history.

St. Thomas Synagogue-Beracha Veshalom Hasadim photo 166918pr_zpsq5xjtbr1.jpg
The Beracha Veshalom Hasadim Synagogue in St Thomas

I thought The Marriage of Opposites was a wonderful work of historic storytelling, but the novel also incorporates captivating fairy tales, fables and allegories.

There are stories of talking parrots, a turtle-girl who is “half human, with a human face and soul" , an apple tree that seems to live forever and a synagogue "made of stone, molasses and sand" .
(This last one apparently not so much a myth but a real combination of ingredients used by Sephardic Jews to hold bricks together, the sand floors were used to muffle the sound of prayer).

Alice Hoffman crosses the lines between reality and the supernatural so flawlessly that at times is difficult to determine what parts of the story are intended to read as magic and what parts are presented as purely symbolic.

There seems to be a very small amount of known facts about the life of the real Rachel Pomie, but the author uses her fantastic imagination to recreate her as a strong-willed, sharp-tongued, passionate woman who refuses to abide by the racial or gender conventions of her times. I absolutely loved Rachel's deep sense of individuality and her resolution to create her own destiny.

Like many islanders, Rachel both loves her surroundings and feels trapped by them. She buries herself in her father’s library, reading voraciously and memorizing maps of Paris, the city she dreams will one day become her permanent home.

As an only child she finds in Jestine, the daughter of the Pomie's cook, Adelle, a sisterly connection that will last throughout their lifetimes.

Rachel and Jestine spent endless hours leisurely exploring the island and dreaming of one day going to Paris together.

But their plans are quickly derailed after Rachel's father arranges for her to marriage Isaac, a 44 years widow and the father of three small children. The purpose of their union is to help with the family’s struggling business.

Rachel doesn’t love her husband, but she adores his children, and she and Isaac have four more together.

When Isaac suddenly dies, Rachel finds herself without a home or livelihood and with 7 children to provide for and another one in the way.
At a time when women didn't have any rights, not even over their own children, she's not allowed to run the family business even though she is perfectly capable of doing so.

Enter Frederick Pizzarro, Isaac's handsome much younger nephew, who has come to settle the family’s estate.

When the 22 year-old Pizzarro goes to meet his uncle's widow, he's expecting to find an old lady, instead he catches sight of Rachel Pomie, only 30, in her white shift.

He felt he "was seeing a secret, a vision granted only to a few. He could feel his desire as she glances at him … The things he wished to do to this woman, he could not have brought himself to say aloud."
This would definitely not be a marriage of convenience!

Frederick is a fair-minded, diligent young man who is as smitten by the beauty of the island as he is by Rachel's passion for life and indomitable spirit.

Shortly after the meet, Frederick and Rachel begin a passionate affair that sparks a scandal within their tight-knit Jewish community. Because Rachel is technically Frederick's aunt by marriage, their relationship is consider to be incestuous in nature.

The romance between Frederick and Rachel is one for the ages, but they will paid a high price for it: they are shunned for years by their community, denied the right to get marry and their younger sons are forced to attend a Christian school where they are the only Caucasian and Jewish children.

It's purely through sheer determination that Rachel and Frederick would get married. They'd have to wait for almost a decade before their congregation recognizes the legitimacy of their marriage and the 4 children they had together.

Camille Pissarro- Flowering Plum Tree Eragny (1894) photo flowering-plum-tree-eragny-1894_zpsvgmgynxo.jpg
Pissarro- Flowering Plum Tree Eragny (1894)

The novels also follows the parallel story of Jestine who at a very young age experienced her own story of "forbidden love". She falls madly in love with Aaron, the Pomie's spoiled adopted son, but their interracial romance is also frown upon by their society so after it's discovered, Aaron is sent to live in France.
Justine soon learns she is pregnant, this daughter would be stolen from her when Aaron's wife learns she is unable to bear children.

The third one of Frederick and Rachel's children was Jacob Abraham Camille Pizzarro.

The second half of the novel, which I found much less interesting, is mostly told from Camille's point of view. It follows him throughout his life as he travels to Europe and South America, returns to St. Thomas only to be extremely miserable there, and ultimately goes back to France where he becomes a prominent figure within the art circles of the times.

Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas-(1856) photo two-woman-chatting-by-the-sea-st-thomas-1856_zpscrcwpmin.jpg
Pissarro - Two Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas-(1856)

Pissarro, who lost his first name and changed the spelling of his last name after permanently settling in France, would become friends with Cezanne and have an important influence on the likes of Gauguin, Renoir & Vincent Van Gogh.

Pissarro & Wife- Pontoise, France photo esposaPontoise77_zpsiyocrt9k.jpg
Camille Pissarro and his wife, Julie Vellay, 1877, Pontoise, France

Rachel and Camille's relationship is difficult, and one that seemed to fit into the "opposites" narrative of the novel. As a man, Camille is able to achieve many of the goals that Rachel is denied to pursue.

Rachel tries to control his son and at least initially, does her best to discourage his intention to develop his artistic talents.
And just like it happened between Rachel and her own mother, the two of them clashed so frequently not because they are so different but because they are so similar.

As a young girl, Rachel used to collect and create stories about the island and write them down. She would hid these notebooks from her judgmental mother knowing she'd probably disapproved.
Years later, when dealing with her own children, she finds herself adopting a similar attitude, completely oblivious to the irony that now she's the unyielding mother, set on her ways to enforce rules she once considered stifling and arbitrary.

There seems to be a rule that dictates that every new generation is destined to inflict the same restrictions on their children that were once imposed on them.
Quite frequently those children suffer from these often misguided, if well-intentioned, protections. But inevitably, they will turn their backs on their parents’s mandates, build their own destinies, and become their own storytellers.

I learned a lot while reading this novel, starting with getting to know Camille Pissarro, a amazing artist I hadn't heard of before.

The novel's exploration on the topics of religious intolerance, racism and, of course, sexism sounds eerily familiar and as relevant today as ever.

The Marriage of Opposites is a beautifully love story, one that I would highly recommend.

Profile Image for Diane Wallace.
1,153 reviews58 followers
August 16, 2017
One of A.Hoffman's best writings..great to see her going back in time telling us all about what was happening back then: like a spiteful,mean and nasty mother... while her educated daughter was force to get married to an older man who already had another wife(polygamy)...all this was taking place in the 1800s and is still happening today..it's an incredible story that was well written because of the pattern of today's world/society..
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
August 10, 2018
I had had The Marriage of Opposites on my radar for awhile, after savoring Rules of Magic and its sequel Practical Magic late last year. Magical realism has been my favorite genre since I transitioned to reading adult books during middle school- its been years to say the least- and I have found Alice Hoffman's books to be full of magical occurrences that make ordinary days vibrant. I have also been fond of impressionist art since my childhood of going to the Art Institute of Chicago and viewing the works of master artists. Needless to say, The Marriage of Opposites appeared to contain many facets that made it a book that I would savor. I proposed this book as a buddy read and found two groups of ladies happy to join me, in the groups reading for pleasure and retro chapter chicks, both here on goodreads (check them out). What followed was a tale of descriptive island life followed by heightened discussions.

Rachel Pomie grew up on the island of St Thomas during the early 1800s when Jews and Blacks enjoyed full rights granted to them by the Danish government. Despite being able to practice their religion freely, groups did not intermix. Most well to do people still kept housekeepers in their homes, and, while they developed friendships inside the home, it was looked down upon by society as a whole if they mixed in public. Rachel's father Moses Monsanto Pomie escaped to St Thomas in a manner similar to that of his biblical namesake. Carried to freedom in a basket by his able servant Enrique, Moses moved his family along with their family apple tree from San Domingue to St Thomas amidst calls for a revolution and rioting. It was in the relative safety of St Thomas that the Pomie family flourished as traders and local business men and became pillars of the island's Jewish community.

Women, however, were still considered property of both their fathers and husbands. Rachel Pomie was the sole surviving child of her parents Moses and Sara, and her father was determined to teach her as he would a son. Rachel learned how to balance account books as well as to converse in Dutch, French, Spanish, German, and English. This angered her mother, who had always desired a male heir, having lost a boy in infancy, and lead to a rivalry between the two women that would last a lifetime. Rachel found solace in reading fairytales by Charles Perrault as well as writing her own stories in a notebook that she kept hidden from her mother. She explored the island alongside her only and closest friend Jestine, the daughter of family housekeeper Adelle, and the two girls grew up like sisters. While their relationship, as well as any interracial relationship was frowned upon by most islanders, Moses Pomie was color blind when it came to race. As such, Rachel and Jestine grew up as sisters through their ups and downs and learned every inch of their vibrant island home, and swore to each other that one day they would live in the fairytale city of Paris.

When it came time to marry, Rachel married a widower Isaac Petit in order to expand on the family business; however, it was not a match of love as Isaac favored his deceased wife Esther. Rachel called upon the spirit of Esther in order to help her through trying times and became a loving step mother to Esther's three surviving children as well as the four children she had with Isaac. Yet it was not a love match, and Adelle, who Rachel viewed as a mother, insured Rachel that she would fall in love, and she would know instantly when it happened. This love match occurs when Isaac passes away and his nephew Frederic Pizarro arrives from France to take over the family business. The two are smitten with each other even though the Jewish community calls the relationship incest, Rachel and Frederic carry on as though its nobody's business but their own. After years, the scandal blows over, and the two go on to have four more children, including Abraham Jacobo Camille Pizarro, the father of French impressionistic art.

Hoffman vibrantly describes both St Thomas island life as well as Paris so that the reader feels as though they are there. She uses colors and textures to enrich the prose which includes ample references to St Thomas food and culture as well as Camille Pizarro's paintings down to the most minute details. Yet, what takes this novel to new heights is the use of magical realism, especially in the sections of the book that occur in St Thomas. Apple trees produce fruit whose taste mirrors the family mood, birds live as long as humans and become messengers of good news and protectors of fates, and Rachel and Jestine in their childhood adventures discover the place where sea turtles lay and hatch their eggs on their march to the sea and develop a turtle-woman who can not decide if her place is in the sea or on land, and remains as poignant symbolism throughout the duration of the novel.

Besides the vibrant island culture and bright life of mid 19th century Paris, Hoffman's text is full of mature talking points that make this novel ripe for book discussion groups. With the rights granted to all people on St Thomas, many interracial romances occur, including those denounced by the majority of the island. Yet, Adelle says love is love and should be color blind. Hoffman weaves these characters' stories into the text flawlessly, and these scorned love matches occur for nearly every couple in the novel. Then their is conflict between parents and children, religious practices and modernism, and the contrast between St Thomas and Paris and their societies and how all of these locales affect Camille Pizarro's art. With descriptive prose full of color, The Marriage of Opposites became a quick, vacation, beach read yet also a novel full of discussion talking points. Suffice it to say, this will not be the last time that I suggest to my friends at reading for pleasure and retro chapter chicks that we read one of Ms. Hoffman's vibrant novels.

4 shiny stars
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,783 reviews14.2k followers
July 24, 2015
Reading about a place I have been is always special. Of course, I wasn't in St. Thomas in the mid nineteenth century but some of the plant life and wildlife remains the same. Hoffman and her new passion for writing about historical characters takes on the mother and her son, Camille, many thought to be the father of impressionism. She also seems to gravitate to strong women and Rachel certainly was that and more. Her ability to bring to life characters, time and place, as well as her descriptive power to bring the colors and sounds of St. Thomas to the forefront. allow the reader to immerse themselves in the story.. Also realtes the political force and the hatred of Jews that led them to St. Thomas. Here they would form their own society, a society that would for some portion of her life, condemn Rachel and her growing family as well as her new husband.

Loved the character of Rachel, she was amazing . A woman out of time who defied many in her quest to be true to herself. At one point Camille goes to Paris and I loved that part of the story as well. Rachel's best friend, a negro who she was raised with, Justeen, has her own remarkable tale to tell. She becomes a second mother to Camille. As a seamstress she understand his desire for colors, beautiful colors and muted colors, any colors at all. It is too a story about the relationship between a mother and son.

There is some magical realism in this story, as well as much folklore. Some wonderful secondary characters each with their own backstory. Having read Hoffman for years I love her new foray into historical happenings, but I miss her stories of whimsy. Would like to see her write another of those. Still a wonderful, if a tad long, story.

ARC from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,541 followers
May 31, 2015
This family saga about the life of Camille Pissarro’s mother evokes a great sense of place for the West Indies island of St. Thomas as a site of intersection of race, culture, class, and religion in the early 19th century. In the tradition of the line of Hoffman novels I have sampled so far, she excels here in storytelling and character development. It is unusual for her to focus on breathing life into historical figures, achieved with much imagination based on skeletal facts provided in the afterward.

Hoffman imagines the wonders and challenges of Rachel Pomie’s childhood in a loving family of Jewish shopkeepers, well connected to the rich tropical environment and to a community formed of many cultures. A Danish colony at the time, the island was a haven for diversity after the king at the end of the 18th century abolished slave trading and established religious freedoms. Hence, the immigration of her parents from Santo Domingo where her grandparents had moved from France. Rachel gets the benefit of cohesion or the Jewish community, but pushes at the boundaries of their constraining traditions as well as broad social norms about the roles of women and the privileges associated with class and race. For example, she forms lifelong close friendship with a black girl, Jestine, and soaks up much of her love of nature and spiritual perspectives. She sneaks out at night with her to marvel in the annual landing of sea turtles for egglaying and learns from her many folktales and herbal remedies. She learns enough arithmetic and reading to help out with managing her father’s store. She dreams of going to Paris and is envious that an adoptive brother, Aaron, is sent there when he inappropriately falls for Jestine.

Rachel’s childhood ends abruptly with an arranged marriage to an older French Jewish widower with three children. She soldiers on in this loveless, but respectful, marriage, and together produce three more children before he dies and leaves her at 29 years old to struggle with managing a large family and business in tough economic straits. These events are largely a backdrop to the main story of this novel, her relationship with the 22-year old nephew of her dead husband sent from Paris by the family to direct the business, Frederic Pissarro (spelled from the Portuguese as “Pizzarro”). Women were not allowed to inherit property, so there is much resentment to overcome at first. Hoffman renders a wonderful love story out of their chemistry and the path it leads them to defy Jewish laws forbidding marriage between an aunt and nephew regardless of absence of blood relations. Because of their banishment from the synagogue, they have to sustain a long period of cultural and social isolation.

As another consequence, the son they produce, Jacobo Camille, does not attend Hebrew school, but instead goes to a Protestant school for people of color run by Moravian missionaries from Denmark. No one knows where artistic genius comes from, but the portrait of Camille’s early life makes a great attempt to account for the roots and influences on his visionary talents, appreciation of colors and natural forms, and respect for common people and diverse cultures. A big core of his heritage lies in the personality of Rachel herself, and like Rachel did with her own mother, he defies her plans for his life, which in his case includes taking over the family business and pursue art. His ability to listen with empathy ends up with people sharing dark secrets with him and thereby allows him to heal major relationship breaches that oppress the lives of his parents and, later, that of his mother’s friend Jestine.

The story has a lovely ending, one which involves Rachel getting to experience the beginning of Camille’s success in his artistic career in Paris. It was satisfying to see Hoffman pulls all the threads of this novel into such a fine tapestry of life.

The book was provided by the publisher as an e-book through the Netgalley program and expected to be published in August. I wish I could have quoted some of my favorite lyrical passages and rich metaphors in Hoffman’s prose, but the publisher requests reviewers not to do so due to the potential editorial changes.
Profile Image for Karen.
595 reviews1,196 followers
July 13, 2019
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, while reading it I did not know it was based on a true story.
I loved Rachel and the parts of the story centered on her the most.
I really enjoyed all the parts that took place on St Thomas, and the mysticism incorporated into this novel.
Profile Image for Jenna .
139 reviews183 followers
August 6, 2015
4.5 Stars

I’ve been approved twice for early copies of Alice Hoffman’s books and both times I nearly did cartwheels around my house. I am a fairly new fan of Hoffman’s but what I have read swept me away into new dimensions. I honestly lose my bearings once I open the pages of her books- it’s as if a gentle hand lifts from the pages and guides me into a new and magical world.

“The Marriage of Opposites” was no exception. Although it took me a chapter to really get a feel for where the book was taking me, it most definitely didn’t disappoint. I will say that there was less of a magical theme, or less than normal, but the storylines were so engaging that I was mesmerized just the same.

There were various timelines (all linear) and the story shifted points-of-view depending on the character but everything revolved around a woman, Rachel Pomié (Petit Pizzarro), and those closest to her. The stories took place primarily in St. Thomas and Paris. Hoffman was successful in turning the atmosphere in St. Thomas to one that was vibrant and magical and I could even smell the salt from the water and hear the water lapping over the sand. Once in Paris it was as though my bones felt cold just reading about the brutal winters.

What impressed me most was how the characters were so developed that Hoffman didn't skip even the smallest nuances in their personalities as life and experiences slowly molded each personality and left them far from generalized.

I tend to write less what the book is about in my reviews and more of my experience as I don’t like to give too much away, but I will say that I highly recommend this book.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Simon & Schuster, and the author for an advanced copy for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
635 reviews350 followers
June 8, 2016
This is a completely biased and prejudicial review from an avowed Alice Hoffman fan.

She describes “purple air smelling of hyacinths”, a blue eyed woman “whose soul was as quiet as snow”, and a dress made from dyes of heron and midnight blues, with pale lilac so flowerlike “that bees rumbled nearby” then sewn from threads "spun in China, carried overland through the desert on the backs of camels and then sailed across the ocean from Portugal.”

And how is it that I have never seen a Camille Pissarro painting? A man she described as the father figure of impressionism and mentor to Monet and Degas. I had to stop early in the book and look at his paintings, then towards the end I watched a slideshow of over 800 of them. I am going to drink some wine and watch the slideshow again. If I had not already read most of her books I would have thought her prose was inspired by his work. It probably was but the fact is she has always painted with her words. I get lost in them. Truly, I travel somewhere else when I get into one of her books. Sighs have escaped me when I finish the final chapters.

This is fiction based on facts and mostly about the life, loves, and dreams of his mother Rachel. Enlightening, imaginative, interesting, and yes, magical.

Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,333 reviews2,146 followers
November 18, 2015
A slight degree of disappointment that this was not as great as the reviews led me to expect! Nevertheless it was an enjoyable read albeit a little slow in parts. Rachel was an interesting main character. She turned out to be quite unlikable but things certainly happened to her. I lost count of how many children she had and also how many of them died. Like many biographies, real and fictional, the story seemed to falter slightly towards the end as the author tried to find a finishing point. Nevertheless, it was well written and worth reading.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,784 reviews1,458 followers
August 31, 2015
After 1/3:

I am thoroughly enjoying myself! Vibrant colors, island life, folklore and history all rolled into one. Real life characters that draw you in. Physical attraction and love.

In conclusion:

I totally loved this book. Every aspect of it. Life on the island of St. Thomas (one of the American Virgin Islands) pulled me in and kept a tight grip on me, from the first page to the last, even the epilogue. I was engaged emotionally and intellectually. I breathed the air of the island, saw the colors and came to intimately understand life there. History is told through the people we meet, so we care. I looked at pictures of the island but they didn't come close to capturing the atmosphere of the place. The time period is the 1800s. After reading this book I feel like I have been there for a l-o-n-g stay, and yet my feet have never touched that soil. I came to understand its delights and its restrictions. Race and religion and social standards all intertwine. Alice Hoffman clearly knows that different places have different lights, sounds, smells.

You have certainly heard of the famed father of the Impressionist Movement - Camille Pissarro. He was born there, in 1830.His mother in 1795. She mothered eleven children. A twelfth was buried unnamed. You start by learning about his mother's life. This is interesting, engaging and movingly told. You have to understand her story to understand her son's. To understand his art you must understand him. The book is so wonderful because it captures family relationships amazingly well. It captures how those we love are also those we hurt. Love isn't easy. The author knows people, and her lines beautifully capture how we hurt, love, tease, entice and question each other.

The book covers what has shaped the artist - his family relationships. It is not a book that follows his artistic life, his paintings, his adult years in France. That is for a biographer. There is a lengthy sojourn in Paris though, his years spent at school.

The audiobook is narrated by four. Tina Benko tells the mother's story. She was my favorite. I utterly adored her husky voice. Santino Fontana is the young Camille. Gloria Reuben is the book's narrator. Finally Alice Hoffman, the author, follows with the epilogue. All do an excellent job. Each captured the feel of the lines being read.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,399 reviews805 followers
September 19, 2015
For me, Alice Hoffman never disappoints. I enjoy her “magical realism” that she weaves into all of her stories. In THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES, she continues her fabulous work, adding folklore and spiritualism. It’s the story of the mother (Rachel Pizzarro) of Camille Pissarro, one of the fathers of Impressionism. This is Rachel’s story, not Camille’s. He is a part of the story, but Hoffman wanted to explore the hardship of women in the 1800’s. Rachel is a fascinating subject, as she was a rebel of that time.

Hoffman states that she used historical facts of Rachel’s life. She used her imagination to fill in what life might have been like for Rachel. With that in mind, I enjoyed her tale. What I found interesting is that she created young Rachel as a rebel, strong and passionate, which it seemed Rachel truly was. But as a mother and grandmother, she created Rachel as harsh, disappointed, and judgmental, all of which was her opposite as a young adult. In that way, Rachel became unlikeable during the middle and end of the story. For me, I found it perplexing that Hoffman chose to fashion her this way.

Rachel had a fascinating life. As a young girl who was unconventional and fought against sexism and class rules, she became a mother of 11 children, all of whom she was completely devoted. The woman was strong and determined, worthy of study. I’m grateful Hoffman brought her to light. For those who love Hoffman and her style, this is not to be missed. It’s a wonderful historical fiction read. (I for one am going to use Haint blue paint in the future) I recommend it as a novel to be slowly enjoyed.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews395 followers
May 14, 2016
Awash with as much color and depth as as Pissaro painting, Alice Hoffman's "The Marriage of Opposites" tells the story of three generations of a family living in St. Thomas, including the famous painter Camille Pissaro.

With lyrical prose, Hoffman engages readers with multi-dimensional characters and a strong sense of place and time. While this historical fiction story includes a famous person, I loved that the real "star" of the novel is Rachel, Camille Pissaro's mother, a fascinating character in her own right -- not for historical reasons but simply by the way Hoffman created her. It seems Hoffman's message is that ordinary people are just as complex and fascinating as famous ones.

I also appreciated the different points of view in the book. From Rachel's point of view we see Camille as somewhat belligerent and disrespectful, while the same story from his point of view gives us an overbearing and inflexible mother.

The last Hoffman novel I read was Turtle Moon over 20 years ago. I don't know why I haven't read anything since. I've also been sitting on this book for almost a year without reading it! I truly enjoyed this one and guarantee I'll be reading more Hoffman in the future.

4.5 stars

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review. I ended up listening to this book on audio, which was excellent.
Profile Image for Jeannie.
205 reviews
September 22, 2016
4.5 What beautiful writing! This book is about the painter Camille Pissarro, I had never heard of him before. It sent me to google so that I could see the paintings he had done. I highly recommend this book to those who love historical fiction. The writing is almost poetic in parts. I loved it!
I have to read more by Alice Hoffman.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,121 followers
June 21, 2015
(I received a copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss but this does not alter my review.)

Most Alice Hoffman books I have read have been quick reads, rich with magic and relationship stories, more beach reads than deep reads. This was a departure from that trend (while recognizing I have not ready all of her novels) in a historical novel of the mother of Camille Pissarro. I was also excited to read it because it is difficult to find books set on the various islands of the Caribbean. Rachel, the central character of the novel, comes from a Dutch-Portuguese-Jewish family that was forced to relocate in the early 1800s. St. Thomas had a substantial Jewish community as a result.

The novel follows her childhood through the end of her life, but there is so much to make it interesting - the sense experience of the islands, the intricate relationship dynamics between Jewish immigrants, recently freed slaves (and some still unfree), and international trade merchants; topics of love and women's roles and motherhood and education and art thread throughout the book. Hoffman clearly did her research. I hadn't read the book description all that closely (jumped at it once I saw St. Thomas) and was delighted to realize that the son known as Camille was the great artist. Knowing more about his background and his upbringing brings an even greater richness to his work.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,739 reviews476 followers
October 9, 2016
The exotic Caribbean island of St Thomas in the early 1800s is the setting for "The Marriage of Opposites". The story centers on Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro, the headstrong and passionate mother of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro (who changed the spelling of his last name). Her family was part of the Jewish community which formed in St Thomas as Jews fled from the Inquisition. Rachel's father arranged her first marriage, which was more of a business agreement, to a kind older widower. But her second marriage to Frederic Pizzarro was one of scandal since he was the nephew of her first husband. Although he was not a blood relative, the love match was considered incest by the religious community and it took years before their marriage was recognized. The last part of the book is set during Camille's early years as a painter in Paris. History repeats itself as Camille shows his independent streak.

In addition to the historical figures, Alice Hoffman has imagined a vibrant group of characters, many of African descent. There's a tangled web of relationships including difficult mothers, forbidden love, babies with unknown paternity, and a kidnapped child. Hoffman sprinkles the book with magical realism--a medicine man with healing herbs, Rachel's notebook of folklore and fairy tales, and the ghost of Rachel's husband's first wife. The reader can feel the heat of the Caribbean and see the gorgeous colors of the scenery. Historical fiction readers will enjoy Hoffman's wonderful storytelling.
Profile Image for Alena.
891 reviews233 followers
August 16, 2015
Because I'm not in the habit of reading book blurbs before I start a novel, I was half way through this book before I realized it's fiction based on true historical figures, in this case artist Camille Pissaro and his mother. Since I was already loving the beautiful language and setting of St. Thomas, the historical context only added depth.

Another real winner from Alice Hoffman, whose work I love.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews301 followers
July 5, 2021
This is a fictional treatment of the story of Rachel Pomie Pettit Pizzaro, mother of the famed impressionist painter.

It has a strong beginning as you get to know Rachel and the St. Thomas social structure. You see Rachel as an assertive girl and woman in an age when this was not accepted. You come to understand her dreams and how due to her family’s needs the dreams could not be realized. After one of the tension points is resolved, the book begins an all too slow unwinding.

A main focus is the generation gap in a culture where parents by controlling resources and marriage had tremendous control of their children. Issues of religious, racial and gender discrimination are part of the story.

This had my attention early on, but once Rachel was developed as a character and Jestine got her news, the narrative, despite some observations on the pecking order in Paris, lost its potency.

This was a pleasant read and the author did a lot of research. Unfortunately, the story seemed to end before the book did.
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews937 followers
June 21, 2015
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster of an advance reader copy of this book.

I am a big Alice Hoffman fan. I loved “The Dovekeepers” and “The Museum of Extraordinary Things,” so I was very excited to be granted early access to “The Marriage of Opposites.” It fits into the Alice Hoffman genre very nicely – historical figures brought to colorful life with just a touch of magical realism.

“The Marriage of Opposites” recounts the life of Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro, the mother of Camille Pissarro, the French painter considered to be the Father of Impressionism. The first part of the story focuses on Rachel and her early life as a child and growth into a headstrong and defiant young woman, and the latter part alternates between the perspectives of Rachel and her son, Camille, as he grows into the artist he will become.

This is essentially a family life drama, much less dramatic and slower paced than “The Dovekeepers” and “The Museum of Extraordinary Things.” Where Hoffman always shines is in the atmosphere she creates – in this case, the flora and fauna of the tropics, the brilliant, merciless sun and heat, and the riot of color blended with the diversity of cultures, the backstories of the islands’ inhabitants and their customs, superstitions and beliefs. She is a fabulous storyteller who excels at weaving together threads of historical fact with fiction, producing a narrative so seamless that you have to remind yourself that what you are reading is an embellished account.

Nevertheless, I have to be honest and say that this is my least favorite Hoffman novel to date. It didn’t grab me and pull me in as her other books did, and I thought the instances of magical realism were actually intrusive and unnecessary to the story. I also thought the conversations were a little stilted, especially between Rachel and her mother and Rachel and her son.

I would rate this a 3.5 but am rounding up for the lovely tropical flavor and ambiance.

On a side note, I found this interesting article on the internet about St. Thomas, Camille Pissarro and the Jewish community on St. Thomas:

Around 12 pages in, you will find some of the historical nuggets that Hoffman uses in her story. Since this document reveals what could be considered spoilers, you might want to read Hoffman’s book before looking at this article.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
April 23, 2015
I really wanted to like this book. I loved her " The Dovekeepers" and had high hopes that were not fulfilled. Here was the problem in a nutshell. The main character, Rachel, was the mother of the famed painter Camille Pissarro and one of the most unlikable characters around. She was obnoxious, rude , self-centered and annoying. Frankly, I was ready to give up after 100 pages because I dislike spending so much time with a disagreeable person but I had a book to review.

Rachel was raised on the island of St. Thomas. She was one of the Jewish families who emigrated there to avoid persecution in Europe in the early 1800's. The family came from France. The discussion of life on St. Thomas was quite interesting. There was a discussion of the rampant slavery and then the dissolution of it. The descriptions of the Island were beautiful beyond belief. She talked about swimming in waterfall pools with tiny green frogs. There was a lot of discussion of the local folklore and legends. This, too, was quite interesting.

Rachel was married off to a widower 20 years her senior when she was quite young. He had 3 small children. Women could not inherit property so her father needed an heir for his thriving store. She apparently takes to motherhood like a duck to water. I found this section a little hard to believe because she was so self-centered but whatever. She then proceeds to have 4 more children before her husband dies. She then meets the love of her life and after many obstacles marries him. She then has four more children including her most beloved, the youngest. He is the famed painter Camille Pissarro.

The book then, mercifully, shifts to Camille and his struggles to become an artist and his move to Paris. This is the best part of the book but unfortunately Rachel comes into the story again. That she has two friends is beyond me. Of course, the fact that both had slaves and her servants might have figured into that.

The writing is brilliant. The life in St. Thomas is vividly brought to life. It's just hard to have such a disagreeable main character. Life is too short to spend time with someone so unlikable.
Profile Image for Amber.
216 reviews
September 1, 2015
This book is a multigenerational saga. We follow Rachel from a girl to a mother and then we follow one of her children, Camille Pissarro, who becomes a famous impressionist painter also from his childhood to his adult years. This story takes place on St. Thomas island in the early 1800’s. There is magical realism weaved all throughout the story, but it never is too overbearing to the realness that this story entails. This family endures many hardships, including persecution from their fellow Jewish community. This is also a love story and a story about relationships with family and friends. There were characters that I loved in certain parts of the book and disliked in other parts. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction. The story doesn’t necessarily follow the path you want it to because it is trying to follow real lives and real lives are often messy. I didn’t feel like Hoffman left any stones unturned, she was thorough with her character development and plot. She is also a master with imagery and atmosphere, she made me feel what that island was like.

After reading this and “The Museum of Extraordinary Things”, I am really becoming a fan of Hoffman. She is a wonderful storyteller who deserves the praise she gets.

Side Note: The style of this particular book reminds me somewhat of Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits”, but on a smaller scale. It’s not nearly as long, but it is multi-generational historical fiction sprinkled with magic.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy.

I added a photo of Camille Pissarro and a couple of his paintings. The first painting is an earlier work before the impressionism really got underway.

Profile Image for Dana.
201 reviews
June 24, 2016
Richly layered like a Pissarro painting, The Marriage of Opposites is mesmerizing and hypnotic. I listened to the audio version and decided to download the Kindle version just to SEE the words. I felt as if I'd been transported to another time the entire time I was reading this book. I studied Pissarro's work in college and have always admired his 'revolutionary style', so I found it fascinating to read about his childhood and his mother's story.
One of the best books I have read this year! The audio is spellbinding! 5 stars!!
Profile Image for Dem.
1,191 reviews1,134 followers
March 18, 2019
My first Novel by Alice Hoffman and what a beautiful read it was.

The Marriage of Opposites is one of those books that just draws you in with its seductive prose, Characters that are interesting and while some are based on real people others are figures of the author's imagination and what an imagination Alice Hoffman has to write a stroy of historical fiction based on the life of Rachel Pomie mother of painter Camille Pissarro the father of Impressionism.

What a wonderful sense of time and place Alice Hoffman creates on the Island of St. Thomas, The imaginary is so vivid and you could almost smell the flowers and feel the heat and the rain and get lost in the lives of the islanders. When I finished the book I had another destination added to my holdiay wish list and I spent some time viewing the paintings of Camille Pissarro.

I just love when a book delivers on prose, plot and characters and A marriage of opposites is one of those books I would highly recommend as it really has something for every reader.
I listened to this book and the narrator was excellent and added to the enjoyment of the story.
Profile Image for Kavita.
783 reviews382 followers
May 7, 2017
Is there a genre for 'fictional depiction of uninteresting women who were related to a famous person'? Camille Pissaro, also known as the Father of Impressionism was born in St. Thomas Island on the Caribbean, to Rachel Pomié and Frédéric Pissarro. This book covers the life story of Rachel, his mother. It also talks about the restricted confines of Jewish life in the 1800s and sexism both within and outside the Jewish community. There is also discussion of racism and classism.

I was not too impressed with this book. While the story of Rachel and her son is based on real events, the friends, neighbours, servants are all made up. Since these people have plots of their own, this book passes from a fictional biography to pure fiction and it does not work. There are plots where the author has Camille running around trying to find a character who never existed in real life. This took the focus away from his actual works and struggles and does not depict his life. The same goes for Rachel. There was no reason to write this biography of a person who did nothing and about whom not much is known.

I found the research severely lacking. The author beats us over the head with the claim that women could not own property or run businesses in the 1800s. That is just blatantly false. There were many legal and social restrictions preventing women from running businesses, but there were many women all over the world who had wealth and owned businesses. Were they all operating illegally? Instead of going into a discussion of the restrictive legal and social practices and how they were gradually eroded, the author simply keeps repeating herself. That's not the best way to convince me!

Hoffman also continuously goes on and on about superstitions and depicts them as facts. Sure, we are looking at things through the eyes of Rachel, but I cannot by any stretch of imagination believe that ghosts are looking after her children and other such nonsense. This led to a disconnect with the story and with Rachel herself.

And then, there is the magic realism. I'm so done with that shit. It just takes the focus away from the actual story and everything is all over the place. It annoys me like nothing else in fiction.

The first half was not actually bad in terms of story-telling. Parts of it were interesting and even compelling. But halfway through, the focus is lost as the narrative shifts to Camille's perspective. Rachel, who had been a rebel all her life, suddenly realises she is a pillar of the community and must now fulfill her god-given duty of being a pain in the ass to her children. She (and the author) justify this control and abuse as 'loving too much'. Yeah, I believe that! There is no believable rationale or explanation to why Rachel changes so much other than 'loving too much', which is a stupid explanation and one I find quite insulting to people who struggle against parental control and abuse.

Authors, stop writing about women who did nothing except give birth to or marry famous people. Stop trying to disguise stupid love stories as deep historical fiction. And for heaven's sake, stop writing such shallow crap in the first person, which just makes it worse.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,347 reviews5 followers
July 26, 2015
I won a copy of “The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman, through the Goodreads Giveaway Contest. I have to admit that this is the first novel I have read by this author, and wasn’t sure what to expect.

“The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman is the story of Rachel, the mother of Camille Pissarro, an Impressionism/Post-Impressionism painter. Rachel, lived on the island of St. Thomas in the early 1800s. Rachel didn’t follow any rules, but “knew what she wanted” The family, devout Jews, fled to St. Thomas during the European Inquisition. Rachel's parents married her off when she was only 14 years old in order to save the family business. With that marriage she inherited three children and by the time her husband died, she had three more. She took over the family business until relatives of her husband showed from Paris up to handle the estate. That relative, Frédérick Pissarro, falls in love with Rachel and they are wed against everyone's wishes. Together they have four more children, one of whom is Camille, to be one of the greatest artists of France.

This book is a story of romance set in historical setting, with strong women, family drama, religion, forbidden love, betrayal and, art. This is a story about opportunity. It is about looking past what you have and reaching for what you want, even without the approval of others. I really enjoyed this novel, and came to the conclusion that it is never too late to conquer your dreams.

Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Paige P.
98 reviews28 followers
May 19, 2016
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman combines the factual history of Rachel Monsanto Pomie Petit Pizzarro, a Jewish woman, born in 1795 on the island of St. Thomas. True to Alice Hoffman's style, a hue of magical realism is blended into Rachel's unusual life story. Rachel's first marriage was arranged by her family to a much older man for the purpose of strengthening the family's merchant/shipping business on St. Thomas and to mother his children from his first wife. Years later after her first husband's death, Rachel married Frederic, a younger man, despite the shunning and disapproval of the Jewish community. Rachel had three children in her first marriage and four more in her second including her son, Camille Pissarro, a famous, impressionist painter in the late 1800's in France.

Most interesting in the story were the societal rules and roles based on religion, race and sex. The main characters struggled against the defining forces of who they were allowed to love and marry, what education was appropriate, who they could associate with, and what profession was acceptable. Rachel had the reputation for being headstrong and I loved her chutzpah when faced with a challenge or opposition. Rachel and her son, Camille, both ended up defying societal and family expectations and in the end, both married for love.
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