Book Review: Claire of the Sea Light

cover image of Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge DanticatClaire of the Sea Light
by Edwidge Danticat
Knopf, 2013
238 pages (hardcover)
Source: public library


Claire Limye Lanme is all her father has. After her mother died giving birth to her, her fisherman father, Nozias, raised her in a tiny shack near the sea in Ville Rose, Haiti. Every year on her birthday, they go together to visit her mother’s grave. And every year, Nozias worries about how his daughter will ever thrive someday as a young woman without a motherly influence.

And so this year, on her seventh birthday, he has made the excruciating choice to give Claire to Madame Gaelle, a wealthy widow and fabric merchant who lost her own daughter in an accident. But before Madame Gaelle can take her away, Claire goes missing – sending the reader on a journey that reveals the personal connections of even those who seem most alone.

Each chapter develops, one at a time, a small cast of characters whose lives are intricately woven together by passion, violence and generosity. The inhabitants of Ville Rose may be separated economically, but the poorest fishermen and the privileged schoolmaster are united by joy, despair, parental pride and disappointment, the search for love and the pain of its loss.

Danticat paints a portrait of Haiti that is modernized yet superstitious, people who readily use cell phone technology without feeling the need to question the extra shadow appearing in the Wonn circle. The disparate, intangible elements of this life are grounded by vivid textures: a velvet bed of ferns, a stinking pile of dead frogs, cigarette ashes singeing the African violets, sand under toenails. And everywhere is light: moonlight on sea, search lamps on Anthere Hill, fishermen’s bonfires on the beach.

Claire of the Sea Light reads like a silvery fable told at dusk. A chain of folk stories each dependent on the last, it exposes the pulsing, life-sustaining heart of a community between worlds.

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