‘Claire of the Sea Light’ by Edwidge Danticat
By Laura Collins-Hughes
It is a town of 11,000 people but countless souls, a place where dead ancestors and long-gone émigrés feel as present as the populace, and where the spirit world gets the blame, or the credit, when reason fails. Rising above the sea on the Haitian coast, Ville Rose is a place of immense beauty and overwhelming poverty, where want is prosaic and violence a smoldering threat, and where only very few live very comfortably.
Edwidge Danticat’s quiet new novel, “Claire of the Sea Light,” takes its name from a little girl whose father, widowed on the day she was born, tries each year on her birthday to give the child away. An illiterate fisherman who lives in a shack on the beach, Nozias is flailing, desperate for Claire to have a better life and convinced that a fabric vendor named Gaëlle, one of the town’s privileged class, could provide it. “This is what he wanted more than anything for his daughter: a lack of cruelty, a feeling of safety, but also love. Benevolence and sympathy too, but mostly love.” Loving Claire, he thinks, means parting from her.
But when, on Claire’s seventh birthday, Gaëlle finally says yes, the child disappears.
The imperative to do right by the next generation is at the center of Danticat’s tale, set in the fictional town she sketched in “Krik? Krak!,” her 1995 collection of linked stories about Haitian life. Here Ville Rose gets a fuller portrait, even as we sense impending doom: The book shifts backward and forward over a decade, but our last glimpse of the town is in 2009, only months before the earthquake that devastated Haiti — and, we imagine, would have wiped out gentle Nozias and all of his neighbors…
‘Claire of the Sea Light,’ by Edwidge Danticat
by Ellen Akins
Special to the Star Tribune
“Remember that love is like kerosene,” a mother advises her young son, shortly before she leaves town (and him). “The more you have, the more you burn.” The question that follows is: Does the burning illuminate or consume? In this novel, both, though as the title suggests, the light is what matters.
Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American writer whose work has garnered the attention of everyone from Oprah to the MacArthur Foundation, has written movingly of Haiti’s troubled past and present, and of the Haitian immigrant’s experience. In “Claire of the Sea Light,” a series of stories of interconnected lives in the Haitian town Ville Rose, history and politics recede into the background, only to be felt as invisible forces behind these characters’ more immediate concerns: identity, romance, work and family.