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The Spirit of Place, Love and Art   Leave a comment

I’m a fan of Alice Hoffman’s prolific work and her most recent, The Marriage of Opposites, reminds me why. She often incorporates elements of little-known history with a touch of the mystical. On the surface that may not sound enticing, but in Hoffman’s hands it is never overwhelming.

Set on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel’s father is among a group of Jewish immigrants who fled persecution from the European Inquisition. To describe his daughter as headstrong is an understatement.

The narrative primarily focuses on Rachel’s life, but later alternates with others. While still in her teens, Rachel is forced to marry Isaac, a man nearly twice her age. Following his death she’s left without property of own and seven children – three from Isaac’s first marriage.

This is not a tale of survival, though. It is part biography but largely a love story. It’s full of passion that emerges when Rachel meets Isaac’s young cousin, Frederic Pizzaro*, who arrives from Paris to take over the family business.

Going against their religion and social mores, Rachel and Frederic marry. Their youngest son, Camille, shares his mother’s obstinate nature; she acknowledges him as her favorite, although the two are often in conflict. The story soon becomes his as he struggles to pursue his artistic endeavors and eventually find his place among the French Impressionists.

Hoffman’s tale is also about of the influence of the island’s bright colors, cultural expectations and what happens when they collide with dreams.

The Marriage of Opposites
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
365 pages

*Camile changed the spelling of the name when he moved to Paris.

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