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Claire of the Sea Light

Endearing novel set in Haiti, a beach read with soul

Claire of the Sea Light, recommended to me by my literary student niece a while ago, is a lovely, quiet, unassuming kind of book. It’s made up of a number of intertwining stories from the poor Haitian fisherman’s village of Ville Rose and is a novel about poverty, destiny, superstition and human relationships. A delightful story and a perfect beach read.

 Life in Ville Rose is tougher than its name would lead you to believe. Poverty is rife; people live in shantytowns under constant threat of landslides. Those lucky enough to have jobs as fishermen, live dangerous lives at sea. The police force is corrupt; random gang violence widespread.

But even in Ville Rose there are little rays of hope and optimism. Weekly broadcasts from the local radio station gather everyone around their radios. The sense of community is strong, as is peoples’ desire to help each other, and the prospect of leaving not as tempting as you might imagine.

There were times, as she’d told Max Senior, that she wanted to take off, leave Ville Rose, leave the country, and never come back. But she’d heard too much about the difficulties of starting a new life in another land to want to try. She’d heard about people who had been infantilized while learning a new language, people who’d ended up cleaning houses or wiping the asses of other people’s children. She saw these people return to Ville Rose at Christmas or in the summertime, with extravagant hairstyles and expensive-looking clothes, but their eyes always betrayed them. All the humiliation they had endured could be detected there.

The characters we meet are Nozias, a dirt poor fisherman, who, with a heavy heart, is about to give away his daughter Claire so she can have a better life; Madame Gaëlle the local fabric vendor and potential adoptive mother who has had traumas of her own; Bernard an aspiring radio talk show host who is caught in the apparent cross fire between local gangs; Max Junior, whose past sins come back to haunt him; his father, Max Senior the headmaster of the local school whose loyalties are tested. As we dip in and out of the lives of these people, Danticat weaves a tapestry of intertwined destinies.

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Claire of the Sea Light is a modest but utterly charming book. Danticat, herself a Haitian, knows what she is writing about and her gentle, beautiful prose makes it all come alive. She jumps seamlessly back and forth in time without loosing the reader, elegantly interweaving the stories.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat is published by Vintage Books, 256 pages.