This historical fiction novel was like a painting. Its descriptions were so colorful and vital. The family saga was woven intricately into the artwork of settings. You felt the drama of the family, the sounds and colors of St. Thomas as well as the drab grayness of Paris and its city life. Well Done!!
The main strength of this book is its descriptive powers. I knew nothing about St. Thomas, and now I do. Hoffman's tales of the variety of lives on the island in the 19th c. are marvellous. The people she focuses on are also well described, whether you hate them or love them. Hoffman's also great with secrets--just read the various reviews to see how badly different readers misinterpret them! The major love story is beautifully told, and so is the irony of Rachel's refusal to let her favorite son live his own life as she so passionately lives hers. I didn't feel the story went slowly; or if I did, I loved that part.
It would have made things much easier for me to follow if there had been a genealogy chart to sort out who was who. But then I suppose the secrets would have been given away too soon.
This is an amazing book which teaches those of us, who don't know anything about St Thomas, the history, the geography, the weather, the beauty and the negative about this island. It teaches us about how Denmark treated the jews and the slaves on the island. Even though it is slow in places, it seems to move like the molasses the Island is known for, sweet, exotic and slow.
Rachael, born in the 19th century on the island of St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies. Her life growing up on the island and her desire to go live in Paris. It covers her upbringing as a girl and her two marriages. Her fight to have a choice in a time when women had no rights.
1st marriage is arranged but she is never in love. 2nd marriage is one of love. She has 8 children from the 2 marriages. Her best friend, a creole girl Jestine, and how as an old women, Rachael learns the family secrets.
Jestine is her half sister as her father had an affair with Jestine's mother Adele, the family maid. And Aaron, the baby Rachaels mother adopted, is the son of one of the leading Jewish ladies. The boy was born out of wedlock and secretly passed onto Rachaels mother who told people he was her orphaned nephew. Aaron falls in love with Jestine but they are not allowed to marry.
Aaron and Jestine have a baby but Aaron is sent to Paris to separate them. Jestine's baby is later kidnapped by Aaron and his wife. Aaron still loves Jestine and feels the baby Lyddie will have a better life in Paris. In the end Rachael and Jestine at 60, finally move to Paris. Jestine is reunited with her daughter and Rachael struggles with her youngest son who chooses to be an impressionist painter rather than run the family business.
Altho Rachael fought for what she wanted she refused to let her son do as he wanted. Their differences almost tear them apart but eventually Rachael accepts Camilles passion for art.
Not a good review of the book but needed to get some notes down.
The appeal of this book is really in the strong writing of Alice Hoffman. It will appeal to people who appreciate a good technically solid prose. The story is a bit slow but well told and the descriptions of island life are lovely.
Having left it to my kids to pick out a book for me, I came home with this. Never would I have ever picked this book on my own but was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. Mixing fact and fiction it felt a little like watching a soap opera but in the back of my mind I couldn't help thinking that some of what I was reading actually happened. I loved the main character Rachel and found the book hard to put down. Yes, there are parts that are slow but all in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am debating whether to check out the Dovekeepers.
When my book club decided on this book, I wanted to read it because of what I knew about the artist. However, I found it to be slow going and hard to finish. I wonder if it's fair to historical figures to create so many negative character traits and events around them. Based on a minimum of biographical data, Hoffman imagines a dysfunctional family who have interactions and spiritual experiences that may be totally out of character for the actual people.
I loved this story - at times I felt that it moved a bit slowly, but I was always interested enough to keep going. My only complaint was that at the end, nobody was aware of what went before and all those details were lost. But I suppose that the details of all our pasts are lost to every generation. I wish we could all know the details of our predecessors' lives and loves.
A truly extraordinary story - a mix of fiction with fact. Long-held secrets that result in tragic consequences. Rachel and Jestine's lives are woven together masterfully. Rachel's son, Camille, seeks his own destiny - in contrast to Rachel's wishes. Therein lies the ironic twist of these two: each determined to fulfill their respective needs. I looked up Camille's paintings on the internet and they are amazingly beautiful! I'd recommend this book to anyone who wishes to explore the culture, beliefs and society in the 19th Century.
The artist Camille Pissarro's mother takes center stage in this historic fiction set on the island of St. Thomas and in Paris.
Two things in the book’s structure aren’t favorites of mine. One is book chapters that alternate different character’s views and the second is writing in first person. Had I not been curious about the artist, I wouldn’t have continued. While Camille’s early life gets attention, his adulthood falls to a secondary place. It’s an intriguing story of life in a small Jewish community on a small island, but lacked a strong narrative arc and had lots of repetition. Disappointing.
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