I must begin with the caveat that I love love love Alice Hoffman. I’ve been reading her books for years, and each one is a gift that I love to unwrap. I am aware that the New York Times review of this book was not enthusiastic, however I really must say that I enjoyed it.
To get right into my review, this book follows the story of the painter Camille Pissaro’s parents’ marriage. Therefore the novel is not about Pissaro, it is instead the story of his parents; their lives and marriage. The main character is Rachel Pomie. She was born and raised on the Island of St. Thomas. Her father was loving and indulgent, in that he allowed her to become educated and to read extensively. While her father treated her well, her mother was increasingly bitter and unloving. Rachel married a much older man in order to save the family business. She became a step mother to three children and quickly had three more with another born after the death of her husband, Isaac.
Woman were not allowed to own property, so the family business reverts to Isaac’s family in Paris. The son Abraham Gabriel Frederic Pizzarro is sent to take over the business. From the time Rachel sees Frederic she loves him, and the feeling is mutual. While they are not allowed to marry since Frederic is her late husband’s aunt’s nephew, they do live together and have children.
This novel is mostly the story of a specific place and time. Rachel Pomie is a girl who fights her entire life against the oppression that surrounds her. I believe that regardless of the damage done to her personally, Rachel did live her life mostly on her own terms. She did indeed suffer through a loveless marriage, but in the end she was able to over-come what social norms dictated to her.
I highly recommend this book. There are many issues including race relations, religious laws and social laws that are discussed in the novel. Once again, well done Hoffman!