Darkness and Light: The Marriage of Opposites

I always relish a new Alice Hoffman book, and I am not disappointed with The Marriage of Opposites; far from it. This is a story of people who defy convention to be their true selves. Rachel always wants her own way, and her father usually lets her have it, until he arranges for her to marry an older man to save the family business. She has a best friend, the daughter of the family maid, and they do everything together, despite being very different people. How different? Rachel is well-to-do and Jewish, while Jestine is of African descent. This is early 19th century St. Thomas, and both are outside the mainstream. Also, unlike Jestine, Rachel does not believe in love. That is, until her husband dies and his nephew arrives from Paris to settle the family business. It's an all-consuming passion at first sight for both of them, and Frederic and Rachel scandalize their community by insisting on getting married. They have several children, one of whom will grow up to be Camille Pissarro, the Impressionist painter. He and his mother are alike in many respects, which makes him her favorite, as well as causes much friction between them. Camille eventually goes to Paris to study and carry out a promise to Jestine. He returns to St. Thomas, and nothing will remain the same. One of the wonders of this book is its evocation of color and its symbolism. As usual the bonds between people, especially women, are a major theme, this time with people who might seem as unsuited as can be. Definitely one for those who like family dramas and atmospheric writing.

If after reading The Marriage of Opposites you feel like visiting Pissarro's native St. Thomas, it is now part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fodor's U.S. & British Virgin Islands offers a good introduction, even if all you are doing is travelling in your armchair.

Want to see the painting Camille became famous for? We have many books of Pissarro's work on reference on the 8th floor of Harold Washington Library, but one of the best that circulates is Camille Pissarro by Christoph Becker.

If you're looking for another biographical novel about Pissarro, there's Depths of Glory by the popular Irving Stone. This covers his life after he returns to Paris as an adult. As this well-researched novel illustrates, Pissarro remained very much his mother's son.

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