The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

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Opening in 1807, Rachel grows up on the island of St Thomas, a child beloved by her father, who makes sure that she’s well educated, and a mother who is cold and bitter. In her family there is also Adele, who is their servant, and her daughter, Jestine, who is like a sister to Rachel. Having fled religious persecution, her Jewish community is close knit and overly aware of avoiding scandal, and Rachel grows to be a strong woman who chafes against the strictures that prescribe her role of subservience.

As she grows, Rachel will marry once for duty and once for love, and will be mother to a large number of children, one of whom will grow to be the famous painter Camille Pissaro. It’s the story of a remarkable woman who was strong, determined and intelligent, refusing to bow to social pressures, but it’s also the story of true love, both her own and her childhood friend Jestine. It’s about the tragedy of the lives of women when they had no choices, and of slaves who had even less rights. The island of St Thomas is painted in beautiful, broad strokes, and feels almost fairy tale like. You can taste the salt on your own skin and hear the tropical birds calling to each other.

It’s an amazing story that captures motherhood, friendship, marriage, loyalty and longing, as well just a touch of magic. I loved it.

Read It If: you love true stories of strong women, or the kinds of friendships that last a lifetime, or tales of true love. It’s wonderful.

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