The Marriage of Opposites

  • by Alice Hoffman
  • Narrated by Gloria Reuben, Tina Benko, Santino Fontana, Alice Hoffman- afterword
  • 13 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling 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, lifelong 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, best-selling 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.

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What the Critics Say

"While each narrator's voice is distinctive, they share a common intensity, a complete immersion in the lyrical language that is a Hoffman specialty.... Even with such scope, this audiobook manages to capture the imagination and transport listeners to another time." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Magical!

Much as in The Dovekeepers, Hoffman's lyrical prose captures the lives of women and their families set in a world very different from our own. Here, the evocative tropical setting of Colonial St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies comes to life with lush description and mystical stories drawn from island lore. The wind, sea, skies, flowers, and birds take on magical qualities in a manner reminiscent of Marquez.
The central character is Rachel Pomie Petit Pissaro, who was the mother of Impressionist master, Camile Pissaro. The story spans three generations of her family and their struggle andconflict dealing with issues surrounding gender, race, religion, morality and ethics during the Colonial Era. Wonderful insight and new appreciation for Pissaro's gift are added benefits of this lovely book.
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- TV

Intoxicating and Complex Journey


Once in a while, rarely, I'll cross my fingers and pick up a book without knowing a thing about it other than it's an author I've read before. Ultimately I'm hoping to be a guest in their world enjoying a spontaneous adventure. So it was with Hoffman's latest book. I've liked, loved, and tolerated her work. I'm touchy with Magical Realism; I can only go along if it makes some sense, or if it's so out there it's enjoyable (Practical Magic). I love the girl-power but tolerate the martyrdom. Consistently though, Hoffman is a dynamic storyteller and writer that I find always worth the investment. Thus, I began listening to The Marriage of Opposites, off on a surprising journey.

Immediately I was caught up in an intoxicating dreamy, steamy world -- an overload of sensations; struck by a vivid tropical paradise saturated in color, myth and the promise of magic. Everywhere there is blue: the blue of the turtles' backs scurrying across the sand under the midnight moon, the blue of the cloudless sky, the changing blues of the ocean, the blue color of paint to keep away ghosts. The intoxication reminded me of a quote by Edith Sitwell ('43):
"We once had a lily here that bore 108 flowers on one stalk: it was photographed naturally for all the gardening papers. The bees came from miles and miles, and there were the most disgraceful Bacchanalian scenes: bees hardly able to find their way home."
This island too has bees that seem drunk on nectar. Hoffman also mixes in the fairy tales and local legends, of turtle girls, pelicans as protective spirits, falling leaves the spirits of dead loved ones. It is a carnival of light and magic, then curses and betrayals, Hoffman doing what she does so well.

The characters are just as rich and vibrant, an assortment of distinct personalities and histories. The plot is complex; tales of generations (Parisians, Islanders, Jews), secrets, religious and social standards, and taboos that affect every character as the story develops. I floated along absorbed in these people and their lives, the day to day on the island, but sensed an impending storm as their lives became more challenging, and the world closed in on the island paradise. It dawned on me slowly that this was an historical fiction, the story of Danish-French Impressionist, Camille Pissarro, and his mother, Rachel Pomié Petit Pizzarro. (And I minored in art history.)

And here the story suddenly shifted, a tectonic shift, and began to lag. This is also the point of contention in many of the reviews: the story loses its charm and becomes a lackluster story of one of our most important artists, in one of the most historical, romantic cities in the world--Paris. To further aggravate and confound readers, his once plucky mother, Rachel -- the same that introduced herself to us by saying she once defied every rule; the girl that skittered around the island like a rebellious island sprite; the woman with a lust for life that told fairy tales and carried the story until the disastrous boom, has a sudden, illogical, complete attitude flip-flop. Out of nowhere; she becomes the mother she always detested. Perhaps a bad mango, or did turtle-girl get her? Hoffman doesn't explain.

Meanwhile: Somewhere in Paris, Jocobo Camille Pizzarro changes his name, hangs out with Monet, Renoir, Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and paints...(can I get a wah wah).

The mix of history in the fiction doesn't blend well; it really is a contrast of exuberance and dullness. But Hoffman hits it so hard in the beginning with such a great characters, setting, and story, that I found this to be one of my favorites in her line-up...at least before the *Gray Period.*

Because I was so enveloped and swept away, I have to highly recommend. I suggest to enjoy the brilliant first half, tolerate the second (it's not that bad), and if you really want to know about Pissarro read "Depths of Glory: A Biographical Novel of Camille Pissarro" by Irving Stone (the same author that gave us "Lust for Life" about Vincent Van Gogh, and "The Agony and the Ecstacy" about Michelangelo).

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- Mel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-04-2015
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio