Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date Published: August 4th 2015
Genres: 19th Century, Family, Fiction, Historical, Jewish
Audiobook Length: 13 hours 36 minutes
Audiobook Narrator: Gloria Reuben, Santino Fontana, Tina Benko
Description: “[A] luminous, Marquez-esque tale.” —O, The Oprah Magazine From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things: a forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism. Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France. Building on the triumphs of The Dovekeepers and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, set in a world of almost unimaginable beauty, The Marriage of Opposites showcases the beloved, bestselling Alice Hoffman at the height of her considerable powers. Once forgotten to history, the marriage of Rachel and Frédérick is a story that is as unforgettable as it is remarkable.
I’m having a difficult time deciding how I feel about The Marriage of Opposites. It’s been days since I finished listening to the audio, and I’m still not sure if I liked it.
The Marriage of Opposites is a fictionalization of the life of Rachael Monzano de Pissarro, the mother of impressionist artist Camille Pissarro. Rachael’s family of Jewish ex-patriots live on the island of St. Thomas amongst other exiles. As an only child, Rachael is raised with knowledge of the family business. But as a woman, there is no possibility of her inheriting, or running the business. Rachael’s father
sells marries her to his business partner. Who is a widower with 3 living children, and even older than her father. By the time she is 29, Rachael is a widow herself, with 6 kids and another on the way. And her husband’s family has inherited everything, including the business and home. At this point, Rachael meets the love of her life. Her husband’s heir and nephew, Frederick Pissarro. But the two cannot marry, as they are family. Four more kids later, one of whom is Camille, the two finally wed.
Whew. That was a lot of plot summary! And really only the first half of the book. But I think you get the idea. The Marriage of Opposites is full of family dynamics. And drama. Let’s get to the reviewing part!
I empathized with Rachael, and the other women in The Marriage of Opposites. But didn’t really like them. These are not characters I would want to spend any time with. Towards the end, Rachael becomes so hypocritical, I could barely tolerate her character. The love between Rachael and Frederick was palpable, unlike her first marriage. To the point where many people in their community thought Rachael had cast a spell on Frederick. I could have used a family tree of all the characters to keep the relationships straight. The Book of Life in the local synagogue contained more X’s than names, which should tell you something about the complicated relationships in this book. The afterward explained many aspects of the relationships. I wish it would have been a forward, as it would have helped clarify the plot.
Normally, I enjoy historical fiction. Even fictionalizations of real people. This was one aspect that I thought Ms. Hoffman excelled at. Everything about life on St. Thomas, and later in Paris, felt real. The scenery. The food. Especially Camille Pissarro’s descriptions. The artistic eye was very evident in the writing.
The audio is where everything went wrong. There were three narrators. But even when I had finished, I could not figure out how the narration was separated. Not by chapter. Or by character. It seemed random to me. To the point that I wanted an actual copy of the book to follow along with the audio, hoping that would help. I think one narrator would have been plenty.
My final assessment is this: I would have been better served by reading an actual biography of Pissarro.
The Marriage of Opposites was ok. If you are interested in 1800’s family drama. But skip the audio and read the book.
Here’s a painting by Camille Pissarro for your enjoyment!