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Alice Hoffman's The Marriage of Opposites

HoffmanMoOHoffman is the author of more than 30 works of fiction including The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things. Her latest novel, The Marriage of Opposites, published in hardcover last summer, was just released in paperback. Of all her many works, this is my favorite.

The setting of this multigenerational family saga is the town of Charlotte Amalie on the very lush island of St Thomas. The time is the early 1800’s. Rachel Pomié, the central character, is a headstrong daughter of a Jewish family, prominent in their community of refugees who escaped the Spanish Inquisition. Rachel is smart, speaks her mind, and doesn’t like to follow rules.  She is married off to Isaac Petit, an elderly widower who already has three children; this merger of families will save her family’s business.  After her husband dies, his family sends Frederic, Isaac’s handsome young nephew from France, to save what is now their business and to decide what to do with Rachel and the children.  The relationship between Rachel and Frederic becomes a scandal, as they fall in love, have more children together, and marry.  (One of their children will become known as The Father of Impressionism, Camille Pisarro.) The Jewish elders refuse to recognize their marriage for some time, as the pair is related – though only through marriage. Rachel is sustained throughout by her dear maid and friend Adelle, and her daughter Jestine. 

For me,The Marriage of Opposites got off to a bit of a slow start, as the first four chapters cover a great deal of history and descriptions of time, place, and setting. But once the story was set, I couldn’t put the book down.  Hoffman masterfully blends fact and fiction, adding in love and romance, business and travel, plus a dash or two of mysticism that give fabulous texture to her storytelling without overpowering the story.

This is a pleasure to read, and it will be fabulous for book club discussion.

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