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, Frederick, 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 Frederick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
This is my third book by Alice Hoffman, and I have to admit that I’m an absolute fan of her writing style. This book in particular is so utterly rich in gorgeous prose and evocative imagery – you can picture the vibrant island life – the bright parrots, sparkling sea, exotic fruit, the heat that’s so heavy it’s almost a physical presence…
I wondered if all creatures were drawn to what was dangerous or if we merely wanted light at any cost and were willing to burn for our desires.
The book follows the life of our MC Rachel from girlhood to old age, tracing her life growing up on the island of St Thomas in the era of colonialism, where people of African descent were still held as slaves, or if not technically slaves, still as people who had less rights than others.
As a young woman she comes across as fairly strong-headed, and sometimes arrogant, but looking at the time she was living in, where women were relegated to the home and not allowed to own property, Rachel’s frustration is palpable, especially as she is such an intelligent woman. At times during her life, she comes across as a fairly unlikable character, especially later in life with regards to her son and his artistic ambitions.
I hated rules, and law, and morals that were twisted into whatever people wished them to be.
The supporting characters and their interconnected stories are also incredibly compelling – Jestine, Rachel’s best friend; Rosalie, the maid; Frederic, Rachel’s second husband; Mr Enrique, the store clerk who saved Rachel’s father’s life… Indeed, watching these characters interact and their stories intertwine from childhood to old age or death is fascinating, particularly with all the buried secrets, and the unsettling, unjust time of having friends or family who are treated as less than human due to the colour of their skin.
I now had a better sense of how an individual’s fate could be based on arbitrary rulings, invented by men for profit of one sort or another.
ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.