Book Review: The Valley of Silent People By Greg M. Sarwa

Based on the legend of Saint Sara, who with Mary Magdalene arrived at the shores of the French Riviera after Christ crucifixion, The Valley of Silent People is an allegory about gaining faith and trust that even the most unexpected and radical discovery has no power to overcome. Though unrecognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, Saint Sara remains one in the hearts of people, especially Roms, who designate her as their patron. Controversy still swirls over whether Sara was Mary Magdalene’s and Jesus Christ’s daughter or simply a servant, fascinating millions of readers around the world.

Joe Clatt’s content and uncomplicated life is shattered one evening, when an atrocious accident claims the life of his wife and leaves his only child in a deathly coma. Joe discovers a letter his wife wrote not long before her death, suggesting she anticipated such destiny. Her last wish is for Joe to visit an inconspicuous place located on the other side of the ocean. Against his better judgment, Joe arrives in a distant village on the French Cote d’Azur. The night, after the festival honoring Saint Sara, he meets one person he was certain he would never see again. Guided by his heart he finds himself embraced as a participant in a remarkable journey, no longer a mere spectator. While Joe struggles to uncover reasons why his wife’s final wish led him to France, he experiences phenomenal events–occurences, he believes, grant confidence that his daughter will survive. Are these revelations the answers Joe seeks, or is something else veiled in the mists of time?

The Valley of Silent People is a fable in the tradition of magic realism of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (Harper One, 1993). It alludes to the controversial subject of Mary Magdalene from the perspective of an ordinary man, who while experiencing most obscure moments of his life finds himself in the middle of exceptional circumstances.

The Valley of Silent People evokes an enchanted sense of reverie and poignancy, similar to The Mermaid Chair: A Novel by Sue Monk Kid (Viking, 2005). And while veiling the tale in a magical mist, it lets the reader arrive with its own answer to the question of what is real, and what only appears to be.

Featuring the actual village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and the annual festival of Saint Sara, The Valley of Silent People is a one-man journey through the exquisite phenomenon we call life.

I liked this 20 chapter book. It was told through Joe’s first person point-of-view. I liked that the story was only told through his perspective because it made the events of his life more intimate. And it heightened the mystery factor–everyone seemed to know what was going on except him. I loved getting inside Joe’s head; he tried his best to analyze everything. I could relate because I’d over-analyze every single detail until someone would put me out of my misery to confide in me what was going on.

My favorite lines were: 1) Sally didn’t say anything as she smiled and kissed me…She had kissed me, and only now was I sure that her kiss was an apology to my ego, for she knew she would be right. 2) I didn’t know whether to be afraid or fascinated. 3) A jolt of uneasiness charged through my body, and fear squeezed the rest of the air from my lungs. 4) “What am I going to do once i get there, Pete?” It wasn’t the first time when I raised the question. “Tell me. If you can just give me a hint I’d appreciate it, because this doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Joe lost his wife Sally and his daughter Rosie was in a coma. Joe moved in with Pete, his father-in-law. I loved that even though he trusted Sally with all his heart, Joe still questioned if he ever really knew the real her. Things came to light after her death that couldn’t be explained. I liked that Joe didn’t just take Pete’s word for things, that he questioned his motives sometimes.

From the beginning, I questioned everything like Joe. Were the events based on faith? Paranormal activities? It was fun trying to guess what would happen once he visited France. I’m happy that my assumptions were correct (would say what that is but don’t want to give the ending away). Once Joe reached the small village across the pond, things began turning weird (in a good way). These characters kept having inconsistencies in their stories, and when Joe would question them about it, they’d cover it up with an unbelievable lie. No wonder Joe started doubting his sanity.

The author had a great talent with dialogue and plot. Each scene enhanced the mystery surrounding his wife’s death. It kept me on my toes to see what crazy thing would happen next. After awhile, it felt like the characters enjoyed toying with Joe’s emotions. I thought that was interesting. The conversations were spot-on and helped me get a sense of the characters’ personalities.

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

For more information on the author or book:

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

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