Monday, June 27, 2016

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Published August 2015 by Simon and Schuster
Source: bought for book club

Publisher's Summary:
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 older 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.

My Thoughts:

  • O Magazine called this book Marquez-esque. Yep. Also brought to mind Isabel Allende for me. Which is always a selling point.
  • Beautiful, lush, vivid descriptions of the landscapes of St. Thomas and Paris. If you don't want to get on a boat and sail to St. Thomas by the time you finish reading this, there is something seriously wrong with you. Both Rachel and Camille (the favorite son who will grow up to become Camille Pissarro) yearn to leave it for Paris, a place neither of them had ever been to - I couldn't understand why. Sure it's ridiculously hot. And the bugs. And the diseases. But, my god, the beauty! 
  • There's a lot to be learned about Jewish history here. You know how much I enjoy learning from my reading. The Jewish culture and traditions play a big part in the story, recalling Hoffman's The Dovekeepers
  • Speaking of learning, I knew nothing about Camille Pissarro going into this book other than that he was an Impressionist painter. Much of his part of the story is based on fact and explains a lot about his style and use of color in his works. 
  • There are some really interesting characters in The Marriage of Opposites, both real as imagined by Hoffman and those created by Hoffman. I wished that some of them might have been a little more developed and the relationships a little better explained. 
  • I had some trouble with the change in focus of the book - early on this is clearly Rachel's story, it shifts for a time and becomes the story of Jestin's daughter, for a time it returns to Rachel but only to allow it to shift then over to Jacobo's (Camille) story to the end. It seemed to me as if much of what happened in the book could still have happened without the big shifts in perspective.
  • Hoffman sometimes gets too carried away with her love of the island and was often repetitive. Alright, already, I get that Rachel delivered a certain kind of flower to her husband's first wife to curry good luck. 
  • But...and this one's a good but...I liked the book, the beauty of it, the characters, the intricate storylines. And, it made for a good book club choice. There's a lot to discuss from the history of the island, the art, the characters, the conflicts between Rachel and almost everyone in her life. This one's coming to you, Mom.


  1. This one was just ok for me. I really didn't care for the writing style.

  2. I am glad you enjoyed this one, Lisa. I've enjoyed Allice Hoffman's writing style in the past and this story really appeals to me.

  3. I have always enjoyed Alice Hoffman's books, and Isabel Allende. O magazine would not be enough weight to recommend anything to me. In fact if Oprah endorses a book, I often run the other way. But your review is very good, and I would prefer to rely on your opinion.