Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 4.5 stars
Rachel Petit was the only child of a merchant and his wife in the tight knit Jewish community of St. Thomas in the 19th century. Rachel rebelled against the strict societal rules in favor of the company of her cook's mixed race daughter Jestine while dreaming of when she will be able to leave St. Thomas for Paris. Rachel's mother resents her daughter's refusal to behave like a proper young lady and lavishes her attention on her adopted son. When Rachel is married off to a wealthy merchant in order to save her father's business, she soon realizes that her life wasn't as much her own as she thought. When her husband dies and his handsome young nephew arrives to settle the family estate, Rachel takes her destiny in her own hands to embark upon a scandalous love affair with repercussions that affect the family for decades.
This fictionalized version of the real life love story of the parents of famed impressionist Camille Pissarro is vividly described by narrators Gloria Reuben, Tina Benko, and Santino Fontana. The book itself is a wonderful read but something about the narration elevates the lush imagery of St Thomas with phrases like "the purple air smelled of hyacinths" and allows the listener to fall deeper into Hoffman's spell.
My only criticism is that the story falters a bit from Pissarro's perspective. It could be because he comes in as a negative voice so long after the reader has fallen in love with Rachel that it is a bit of a shock or it could be because his point of view isn't as interesting despite his fame. Either way, it temporarily pulled me out of the beautifully spun world Hoffman created. Despite this hiccup, I highly recommend the novel.