Search This Blog

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman's novel is a fictional account of the life of Pissarro's mother, particularly her controversial marriage to her deceased husband's nephew.  I was skeptical of the book and only picked it up because it's September's pick in the Inspired by Literature club, but I'm so glad I did.  Hoffman's storytelling is beautiful and evocative, and rich in cultural detail. It even incorporates a little of the magic realism that she is known for.

Although the perspective changes occasionally, most of the book is told from Rachel Pissarro's point of view. Rachel is a force of nature, enough to rival the storms that hit the island and nearly ruin the family business. She is smart, willful, and passionate, alternately willing to make sacrifices for her family and willing to defy laws, conventions, and neighbors to get what she wants. She is also a bundle of contradictions; some of those contradictions deepen her already complex character, but others are inexplicable. It's as if in some scenes -- just a few -- Hoffman wasn't quite sure who Rachel was. Nonetheless, she is a memorable character, and her sections of the book overwhelm those portions told by her first husband and her son.

Most of the story takes place on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, and Hoffman's description of life there reminded me strongly of Puerto Rico, where I was born.  In particular I was taken with the repeated motif of the flamboyant trees (flamboyán, as we called them) with their brilliant red flowers.  My grandmother (a Spanish and French woman herself, although Catholic, not Jewish) was a painter, and one of my treasured possessions is the painting she did of a Flamboyán tree on a street in San Juan:

So that was my inspiration. I embroidered my own flamboyán, and placed it in a brass frame.  I added some glass pearls for luck (like the heirloom necklace in the novel, that can bring or take away luck).

My enchanted island is suffering terribly as a result of hurricane Maria.  If you are able and inclined to do so, please consider giving to help the people.


  1. Lovely painting, you obviously get your artistic talents from your grandmother. The tree you made is beautiful too.
    We really do seem to have had more than our fair share of natural disasters recently. I hope that people can rebuild their lives soon.

    1. Aw, thanks. She died when I was very young, and I wish I could have gotten to know her.

  2. What a wonderful treasure from your grandma! And such an awesome piece! I think you captured the scene perfectly. And I love the additions of the pearls too! So wonderfully interpreted! Great job!