Vale of Tears by Paulette Poujol Oriol is a tragic tale about how far a person can fall depending on the choices that are made. The main character is Coralie a weak-willed, naive girl who never learns from the mistakes that she makes and then is stunned when things turn out badly. Always wondering how her life turned out how it did and never really taking any responsibility for her actions.
The book is told in a circular fashion. It starts with Coralie in the present preparing to make a long slow walk though the city to visit people she once knew in order to beg for money so that she won’t be kicked out of her home. Interspersed with the present her history is told in flashbacks, starting when she was a young child of a rich Haitian businessman. By the time the book ends her past and present have met up and the circle is closed.
Coralie is a deeply flawed character. She makes many bad choices – often more than once – never really learning from her mistakes. She is also a passive character accepting all the things that life throws in her path and never actively tries to correct anything. If Coralie had been just a little bit more proactive and aware of the world around her then her life would have followed a different path. The main theme of this novel is about the choices a person makes and how it affects the outcome of their life. If you always make bad choices then bad things will result. Such is the fate of Coralie.
At first I sympathized with Coralie and wondered how she could have fallen so far in the social strata when her father was a rich and powerful man. But as her past unfolded it became harder and harder to find sympathy for her since at almost every turn there was a way for her to change the course of her life. However, that was the whole point of her character since the novel was written in response to a comment from the author’s friend about another book she had written in which everything turned out well for the main character. Oriol said that she could have just as easily written a tale with opposite results….and so Coralie was born.
The setting and way that that this story was told was perfect. Oriol’s words are almost poetic and I loved the mix of french creole into the dialog. Although I was equally glad that for every foreign phrase there was an English translation. The mixed language sentences added realism to the story and helped it to flow along.
In Short: A well told tale about the power of choice and the dire consequences that can happen when you don’t learn from your mistakes. Beautifully written with a steady, almost poetic, rhythm to the words. The changes between past and present in the narrative are done in a seamless easy to follow way. Not sure if this is a book that I’d recommend but I am glad to have read it.