Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Le Passage, a Journey

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Le Passage, a Journey

Article excerpt

Journeys, internal or external, physical or psychological, are among literature's most engaging and fascinating themes. From Don Quixote to Gulliver's Travels, quest narratives have always linked trying pilgrimages with potentially life-changing revelations for both their characters and the readers. So it is with the journey of Coralie, the main character of Paulette Poujol Oriol's Vale of Tears, the first of her many remarkable novels to be published in English.

Here, in equally suspenseful parallel narratives, we follow Coralie at two different stages of her life, first as a young woman who is expelled from Catholic school for making an inadvertently sexual remark, then as an older woman who is going from house to house looking for handouts. The younger woman's narrative tells of how after her expulsion, she enters a loveless marriage then following her husband's death abandons her infant son in Haiti to move to Europe where she engages in a series of dangerous liaisons, including one with a Nazi officer. When she finally returns to Haiti, eight years after her departure, she finds that most of the fortune she had inherited from her husband has been pilfered and she has no choice but to accept a meager allowance from her relatives and become involved with men who support her in return for sexual favors.

As the dual strands of the narrative are woven together, we watch Coralie's fall become more and more humiliating, when she is forced to beg old friends and family members for food and car fare on New Year's Eve of all times. During what is supposed to be a time of renewal, she finds herself unable to surface from an ongoing nightmare, which connects her fate to that of millions of poor Haitians, whose circumstances have always been bleak. …

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