Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

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Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A seemingly gentle folk tale that then goes on to pack the heat of molten iron. Individual vignettes of love and loss, combining to make a community fighting to maintain a beating heart and it all starts with a fisherman wanting to give his child away to a better life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2014
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1782068518

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Claire Limye Lamne (Claire of the Sea Light) is born in the fishing village of Ville Rose, Haiti as her mother dies. Her father Nozias, a poor fisherman, spends his life trying to make a better life for his baby to such an extent that he eventually encourages a local fabric seller to take Claire. This happens on the night of Claire's 7th birthday; the night that little Claire goes missing before the fabric seller can take her.

Edwidge Danticat is eminently qualified to show us round the culture, lives and dreams of the residents of Ville Rose. Not only is she an award winning author (recipient of both the MacArthur Fellowship and the Hughes Medal) and a welcome contributor to The New York Times and The New Yorker, but she's also born and bred Haitian. In this way there would be none better to interpret the local mix of folklore, the struggle for financial survival and the battle for justice to those of us with only a vague media fuelled (so perhaps not entirely accurate) idea of our own.

Indeed the key to this story is that it's more than a story. It centres on Claire and Nozias' lives but then the camera pans out so we learn more about the other members of the community. Some of the choices seem random. There's Bernard, a local radio broadcaster who's deemed guilty by association when trouble strikes. Louise, a part-time teacher, comes across as a compelling case for corporal punishment. The heart break continues when Max Ardin Junior, son of what passes locally as aristocracy, learns his own son's name and realises it stands for an irreconcilable error.

Gradually the randomness of the cases fades away and we realise the interconnectedness of the community. We also realise they have more than their location in common. Each story reveals the loss of someone or something once loved and the effects.

This is no dirge though. The joy of Edwidge is not only in the way she weaves imagination with the hard hitting reality of a violent justice system (if indeed justice is the word) but how she evokes place. This is a land where mothers dying in childbirth go to fight the malevolent forces that may try to take their babies at the same time. Ville Rose is a community ruled, helped – and sometimes destroyed – as much as by the power of the mind and the sea as by the power of the gun.

Then there's the language Edwidge uses to transport us to poetic places. Writers have produced reams about women's desperation to conceive. Edwidge only needs a sentence: hearing a woman would almost pry the baby from God's hands says it all.

Indeed there are some wonderful universal truths within this local setting. Yes, these are vignettes of a close community pulling together while dealing with personal secrets alone. We may even chauvinistically feel that we have a better handle on justice than the island state has. However the frailties of humanity reflected in these pages are shared by all, whether we want to admit to them or not.

(Thank you, Quercus, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like to learn more about Haiti, we recommend In Darkness by Nick Lake. Ignore the 'Teens' label – good writing is good writing.

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Buy Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat at


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