Monday, September 14, 2015

The Marriage of Opposites

The Marriage of Opposites
Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster, 2015. 292 pgs. Fiction

Rachel PomiĆ©, a young woman raised on St. Thomas at the turn of the nineteenth century, longs to leave her restrictive social circle and overbearing mother for Paris.  Having married young in order to save the family business, Rachel is widowed before the age of thirty.  When her late husband’s nephew comes to the island to settle the family’s accounts, the two embark on an affair that divides the family and St. Thomas’s tight-knit Jewish community.  The second half of the novel focuses on their son Camille and his journey toward becoming one of the world’s best-known Impressionist painters.

Hoffman’s lyrical writing is often captivating, though she at times falls into long descriptions that take away from the story.  I also found the transition between Rachel’s and Camille’s stories rather abrupt, and I felt that Rachel’s interactions with her son were out of character.  In spite of these shortcomings, however, The Marriage of Opposites is a beautiful telling of Camille Pissarro’s family and personal history.  Hoffman conveys a great deal of information about the complex social structure of St. Thomas, a haven for Jewish refugees and freed slaves, and she inhabits the island with vivid, complex characters.  I was repeatedly struck by the beauty of her writing and the power of her imagery.  This story will stay with me.


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