Rêves amers was my first experience reading Maryse Condé and I really enjoyed it. This story follows young Rose-Aimée from her little poverty-stricken village in the Haitian countryside to the bustling city of Port-au-Prince, where she must work to provide for her family. Rose-Aimée’s employer is really mean and she ends up running away and finding her friend Lisa. Together, they devise a plan to ensure that they will never again have endure the harsh realities of what is known in Haiti as “restavek”.
So, this book was pretty short and to the point, but it was by no means lacking. The story was pretty powerful, but not so complex that you have to be an “adult” to read it. I think it would actually be a great book for middle-grade kids to read to learn a bit about restavek. For those of you unfamiliar with restavek, it’s aHaitian term for a very common practice: wealthy people basically buy children to work for them in their homes, usually under really harsh conditions. I have a friend who also just graduated from Buff State with a French degree who did an independent study on restavek, and she said once how upset she always got while reading books about it. More information on restavek can be found here. Like I said, this story doesn’t have a super horrific restavek story, but it’s a good introduction to it.
Rose-Aimée and her friend Lisa are at once likeable characters. They are both only 12 or 13 years old and already have to work hard for their families. They desperately want to make a better life for themselves in a place where hardship is just a part of life. I wasn’t surprised at all when they decided to travel illegally to the United States. Haiti is such a poor country and the US probably seemed like a fairytale land to these young girls. They are constantly surrounded by two extremes in Port-au-Prince: the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor, as quoted from page 15 (I’ve translated from French to English): “Inequality, contrasts=that was Port-au-Prince.” Another quote that really stuck with me is this (page 42, also translated): “Why are some people rich, and others so poor that they must leave their own country to find a means of surviving? Rose-Aimee had turned this question over in her mind many times, but could not find an answer to it.”
The ending of this book was very abrupbt and not at all what I had expected. Though honestly, did I really expect a fairytale ending?? I didn’t even cry even though it was pretty sad because it seemed so normal and everyday for people like Lisa and Rose-Aimée. I do wish that Condé had gone a little more indepth into the story. I feel like it could have been a lot more intense if certain things had been elaborated on. At the same time though, the quick storyline and lack of elaboration makes the story seem more real, like these are real people we are watching trying to escape a country they love but can no longer live in.
Some more favorite quotes (translated from French):
Page 62: “However, the spectacle of all this misery did not discourage Rose-Aimee. On the contary. She felt a new will wake inside of her.”
Page 73: “Who made the world? They say it was God. But why did he not give all creatures the means to savour beauty? Why do some people only think of eating, of dressing, of surviving, without the power to ever lift their heads to admire the leaves on the trees, the vividness of the flowers, the splendeur of the rivers?”
The original name of this book was Haiti cherie in French and it was orginally published in 1987. I can’t find any information about a translation into English, so I’m assuming there isn’t one? In any case, if the current title were to be translated, it would be Bitter Dreams.
Title: Rêves amers
Author: Maryse Condé
Date of Publication: 2005
Number of Pages: 80
Source: Personal Copy