“The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman

I have been in the worst reading slump starting from the beginning of this year. At first, I was dealing with my insomnia and did not have time for reading trying to focus on my health and then the war in Ukraine happened and I could not read anything but the news. In the past few weeks, right before sleep, I was reading a lot of those which were not good for my sleep and my ongoing insomnia at all. I decided to try to get back into reading to have some calm time before sleep. The first few times, I had to force myself to stay focused but I think I am finally liking it and enjoying my calm 30 minutes before sleep.

On that note, I have finally finished “The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman. I started it at the beginning of December and I am glad to finally wrap it up. “The Marriage of Opposites” is a fictionalized story that covers the life of Camille Pizzaro, one of the first French impressionists, and his mother Rachel. The story starts on the island of St Thomas, a French island in the Caribbean where the family of Rachel fled as Jews a few generations back. It then follows Rachel throughout her life and eventually focuses on the life of Camille.

The book started really strong for me. I loved the descriptions of the colorful island mixed with local mysticism and magic – the island had a special feel to it. I also loved the main character of Rachel, who was Jewish in the 1800s, and had to defy a lot of social norms and rules. Rachel had a strong character and an interesting way of handling things and I liked following her throughout her marriage, navigating widowhood, being ousted by society, and other challenges she was overcoming.

That all was well until the second part of the book came in and the story was taking strange turns – from the island to France, from colorful and mystical life in nature to the cold streets of Paris (for later in her life, Rachel did move to Paris with her family). I guess the contrast was so stark that the story stopped making sense at some point. It felt like the author was trying to come up with more plot twists but if they would have stopped right at the first part of the book, it would have been so much stronger. Overall, it was an enjoyable read and I gave it 3.5 stars on Goodreads. Here are some of my favorite quotes as usual:


“It seemed that some of the most prominent women in our community strayed, for Jewish women were bound by rules on every side: the rules of God, but also the roles of the Danes, and of our own leaders. We were meant to be mice, to go unnoticed so that we would not bring hatred upon our people who had been so ill-treated in every nation. But I was not a mouse. In the fields where I walked, I was much more interested in the actions of the hawks.”


“In return, I pinched Aaron and called him a duck in English, not such a pretty word. He always gave me a wounded look, though he didn’t complain. I should have been guilt-ridden, but I suppose I was a brutal girl. I knew what happened in fair tales. The strong survived while the weak were eaten alive”.


“My people accounted for nearly half the European population of the island. We were called Creoles, Europeans who had never been in Europe, Jews who hadn’t stopped running from persecution until we came here. Yet we still cooked our food in the French way; we added olives and chives and caperberries, in the old Spanish style. We carried our pasts with us. Perhaps that was what made us appear to be shadows, the burden we carried with us, the other lives we might have led.”


“I always looked at the world as if it were a puzzle – whether it was a scene, a landscape, or a person – the pieces dissolved inside my mind so that I could put them back together to form a whole”.

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