Set in the island of St. Thomas occupied by Danes, the story of Camille Pissarro, the French-Danish, impressionist of 19th century is overshadowed by perhaps too detailed story of his mother Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro.
The only daughter of a well respected, and well off
merchant of the Island, Rachel learns from her father reading, writing
and math; something that not very many Jewish girls are encouraged to
do. Despite the fact, that she could never inherit, she learns to read
the ledgers. Her youth is spent reading the books in her father's
library and dreaming of living in Paris. As she reaches the marriage
age, she finds it very difficult to fall in love. In fact, she doesn't
believe in love. Her marriage to an older, widowed merchant, arranged by
her father doesn't come as a surprise. Rachel realizes her softer side
as the second Mrs. Issac's Petit. She has had a bitter relationship with
her mother, so she is surprised to find an adoration for the three
children of Mr. Petit. Rachel's story is one of defiance of customs and traditions. The least of her worries is what others think of her.
Abraham Camille Pizzarro is the third of four children Rachel had with
her second husband Fredrick, the nephew of his first husband who came to
St. Thomas to take over his uncle's business.
Jacobo took three days
to be born and cried all the time. He was his mother's favorite child,
but Rachel never showed affection to the boy. He went to the all black
school, because they were out cast from the Jewish community. (The side
story of Rachel's love for and marriage to Fredrick, her first husband's
nephew, as well as their effort to legalizing their marriage and
registering their children in the book of names --is an interesting side
story). Jacobo doesn't excel in his education, but shows interest in
drawing. To parents who want him to work in the family business, this
comes as a big disappointment, so they send him to a boarding school in
Paris to acquire more practical knowledge and skills!
the author glosses over the "artist" creating his "art", I was
fascinated by Pissaro's use of lively colors as described in the book.
This quote from the Wiki captures how I felt when I read about him in
"The brightness of his palette envelops objects in atmosphere ... He paints the smell of the earth.":35
The title of the book is very confusing, as if the author changed her story but forgot to change the title!