Thursday, September 24, 2015

Review: A Marriage of Opposites

Rachel is part of a small group of Jews living on St. Thomas in the 19th century. Her parents are seen as pillars of the community, but Rachel dreams big and is not afraid to act or speak out. She dreams of controlling her own life, and perhaps even living in glamorous Paris. Her dreams are encouraged by the family maid Adelle and Adelle's daughter Jestine, who is Rachel's best friend. But Rachel's dreams come to an abrupt end as she is married off to a much older widower in an effort to save the family business. When Rachel's husband dies, she falls passionately in love with someone who is deemed completely inappropriate by her community. Is now the moment when Rachel can finally start writing her own story?

A Marriage of Opposites covers a lot of ground in one book. Readers see Rachel as she grows from an idealistic girl to a resigned young woman to a wife and mother who tries to balance the needs of her family and the desires of her own heart. Then the focus switches to her son as he defies convention in the same way that his mother did and decides to follow his dream of making art and going to Paris. Woven throughout are glimpses of what it means to have power and wealth and the dire consequences of not having those things. Rachel and her family are banned from their synagogue after she chooses to pursue a new relationship and her best friend Jestine has her heart irrevocably broken when people with more power and lighter skin take away the one she loves the most.

Although this book is about real people, the universal story here is about parents and children. Rachel dreamed for years about getting out from under her mother's oppressive control, but does the same thing to her own children without seeing the parallels. Camille bristles under his mother's direction, but his mother dreamed of Paris just as he does and fell in love with someone unsuitable just as he will.

I love Alice Hoffman. To date, she has written more than 30 novels and I will probably pick them all up at some point or another. As usual in Hoffman's writing, there is magic around the edges of a real story. In this case, Rachel is particularly attuned to the spirits of the island and perhaps, the spirits of ancestors in her Jewish community. While this is not my favorite Hoffman novel, it remains a testament to her ability to evoke a specific time and place. Some writers seem forced to stay in one time period, but Hoffman takes readers from 20th century NYC to the ancient fortress of Masada to the breathtaking island St. Thomas with equal skill.


The Marriage of Opposites
By Alice Hoffman
Simon and Schuster August 2015
384 pages
Read via Netgalley

8 comments:

  1. I have yet to read anything by Alice Hoffman but I'd like to get to know her. This sounds like a great book with believable characters and a moving story. Awesome!

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    1. I like her stories so very much. Somehow I forgot to mention that these characters seem so real because some of them are. Whoops!

      Camille Pissarro was a famous Impressionist painter who was born on St. Thomas and all of the major facts of his life and Rachel's are true. Hoffman wrote around them and introduced new characters outside of the family and imagined some of the events of their life.

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  2. Doesn't sound like this is a very happy book ... Rachel's life seems a little sad.

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    1. It is kind of sad, but it is incredibly atmospheric! I think it's mainly a story of people trying to overcome their circumstances.

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  3. I'm glad to see your review of this one. I love Hoffman, and I picked this one up from the most recent crop of Book of the Month choices.

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    1. Which one is your favorite so far? I love The Dovekeepers the most, but there are so many I still have to read!

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  4. My review of this is just up. I liked it very much.

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    1. I just read yours! I'm glad you liked it.

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