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Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat.

December 8, 2014

Claire of the Sea Light, by Edwidge Danticat.  Vintage (2014).  Paperback, 256 pages.



A web of the lives of the individuals of a seaside village in Haiti, told with intense precision and beauty.

Edwidge Danticat writes about her beloved Haitians with clear awareness of their pain and a unique ability to transcend it. At the same time she opens us to their suffering and tragedy, she reveals the love and resilience that allow them to survive. Both she and her characters seem to be walking a tight rope between despair and happiness. Her elegant words create the fragile balance.

At first Claire of the Sea Light seems to be a cluster of separate stories about of village people, rich and poor, and their conflicting emotions as they face the realities of their lives. A poor fisherman is ready to give away his seven-year-old-daughter, Claire to a woman who may offer her a better future. Claire herself has never known a mother, only “a string of mothering acts performed by different hands.” The son of a wealthy family goes to Miami, escaping from the death of his friend and the woman he made pregnant. An aging radio host is “floating through her life, looking for notion of who she was” in those she interviewed. A woman with a beauty shop believes that “even the poorest and unhappiest of women could fight heartache with beauty.” As we read, however, the stories overlap and we see the same events from different perspectives. We also see the parallels between the stories as different characters run away and return home.

Although the plot lines show diverse characters in all their humanity, it is the sheer power of Danticat’s prose that makes this book unforgettable. Sharp and poetic, she makes us feel both suffering and healing.

As a young child, Danticat was raised by relatives in Haiti. When she was 12, she joined her parents who had migrated to the United States, but her close ties to Haiti continued. She was particularly influenced by the Haitian tradition of storytellers. She continues to be closely connected to Haiti through her relatives there, and her award-winning books depict the people there.

I strongly recommend Claire of the Sea Light to all readers who love powerful writing, especially those who share Danticat’s belief that beauty can relieve pain.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2014 5:48 pm

    I love Edwidge Danticat’s writing!


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