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The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Historical fiction

The Marriage of Opposites

by Alice Hoffman

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Quick take

In her 35th book, Hoffman continues to delight not just our imagination, but our senses as well. You can taste the coconut cake and feel your nose tingle from the island's jasmine and sea breezes.

Why I love it

Thanks to Alice Hoffman's exquisite new novel I can check off at least two items on my intellectual Bucket List…

In The Marriage of Opposites, the prolific author creates a colorful canvas on which she tells the fascinating story of Impressionist painter Camille Pissaro's spirited and defiant mother Rachel Pizzaro, whose love for her son helped shape the future of painting.

Growing up in a strict refugee community in St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel is a difficult and willful child, a trait on display from the story's opening lines: "I always left my window open at night, despite the warnings I'd been given. I rarely did as I was told. According to my mother, this had been my response to life ever since my birth, for it took three days for me to arrive in the world." Her independence and daring ultimately results in a torrid and forbidden love affair that has long-reaching consequences for everyone in her life, most of all Camille.

St. Thomas proves a worthy playground for Hoffman's signature blend of folklore and family, intrigue and magic. She constructs an intricate world where pirates have "more than a dozen wives," parrots "speak four languages" and shells not only "reveal pearls," but also "birds as tall as men who danced for each other in the marshes." Juxtaposing this dreamscape are (literal) ghosts haunting descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled by Queen Isabella during the Inquisition.

In her 35th book, Hoffman continues to delight not just our imagination, but our senses as well. You can taste the coconut cake and feel your nose tingle from the island's jasmine and sea breezes. As for that Bucket List, thanks to The Marriage of Opposites, I have honed up on my French and art history all in a single setting. And there are many more payoffs from having experienced this treasure of a novel.

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