The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. Some of you might be familiar with Hoffman's other pieces of work, most notably The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, two well-known and well-received novels. Of course, I have read neither of these, but that's besides the point and they are both now on my ever-growing to-be-read list. I was intrigued from the synopsis of this book and I knew it was one I was interested in reading.
From the publisher:
As a young girl in a small Jewish refugee community, Rachel dreamed of a life in Paris, far away from her difficult mother. That dream is extinguished when she is forced to marry a local widower and become stepmother to three young children. When her husband dies suddenly, Rachel finds herself in the throes of unimaginable passion after meeting Frederick, her late husband’s nephew who has come to help her settle the estate.A forbidden love story. A tropical island. Scandal. Paris. The Marriage of Opposites, in a nutshell, is the retelling of the story of Rachel Monsanto Pomié Petit Pizzarro, the mother of Camille Pissarro, the father of Impressionist painting. The novel sets out from when Rachel is just a little girl, and follows her life as she navigates a difficult relationship with her own mother, a marriage not based on love, raising step-children, bearing children of her own, deaths, illnesses, a forbidden love, betrayal and loss. It's an epic saga, one that pulled me in from the beginning and had me savouring the last few pages as I was not ready to say goodbye.
It's not often I read a book of such grand proportions anymore. I was reminded of other great sagas I immensely enjoyed (The Thorn Birds, Outlander…), and it's a shame they don't fall into my lap more often. There's something special about a story that spans several decades and is full of such detail. The character development is excellent; you grow attached to not just the storyline, but to the characters who become people to you. Nothing is held back and while I didn't want the book to end, I also didn't feel like there was more story to be told or parts of it left out.
The setting is important to note too. Taking place mostly on the tropical island of St. Thomas (now the US Virgin Islands), the imagery, detail and descriptions were palpable. I could feel the heat and humidity, I could envision the colourful plants and wildlife, and I could easily picture the homes and what life on the island in the early 1800s must have been like. Hoffman is a brilliant and beautiful storyteller.
So if you're looking for your next great read, I don't hesitate to recommend The Marriage of Opposites to you. Plus, it's always a little fun to learn a bit about history while immersed in a great story.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions, as always, are my own.
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