The Marriage of Opposites

marriage of opposites coverThe Marriage of Opposites
Hoffman, Alice
RATING:  *****
November 10, 2015

In the late 1700s, on the idyllic island of St. Thomas, spirited and intelligent Rachel Pizzarro is born into a conservative Jewish family. Her upstanding mother honors the rules of their small Jewish community.  Rachel does not.

Ever defiant against convention — and her mother — Rachel befriends the cook’s daughter, Jestine, and like sisters they roam the island paradise, youthful, carefree and ignorant of the truth.  Rachel is her father’s pride; she balances the business ledgers and learns multiple languages.  It is Rachel’s rude fate that when father is in need of a business partner, he marries her off to a widower with three children.  The couple have another four children, her older husband dies, and his young nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to oversee the business. Rachel is prepared to rebel against Frédérick, the man who would take over her estate.  Instead she falls in love with him.  Their forbidden union is shunned by the religious community.

More children are born, the Jewish community finally accepts the lovers’ marriage, and family secrets become more entangled.  Forever-headstrong Rachel’s youngest son, Camille, most resembles her.  Camille is unable to conform and ill-suited to take over the family business.  He is an artist.  Camille travels to exotic lands, befriends bohemian artists, and remains unshakably committed to art.  Fleeing the restrictions of family and homeland, Camille escapes to Paris where he studies art, marries the girl of his heart and, after changing the spelling of his name, becomes known as the legendary Camille Pissarro — one of the fathers of Impressionism and still considered one of the greatest painters of the 20th century.

How the family reunites and reconciles generations of differences and misunderstandings is an intricate tale of enchanting and doomed relationships set within unforgettable landscapes and recounted through elegant prose.