Summary and book reviews of Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Claire of the Sea Light

By Edwidge Danticat

Claire of the Sea Light
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2013,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: 6 May 2014,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

From the best-selling author of Brother, I'm Dying and The Dew Breaker: a stunning new work of fiction that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing.

Claire Limyè Lanmè - Claire of the Sea Light - is an enchanting child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Claire's mother died in childbirth, and on each of her birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her mother's grave. Nozias wonders if he should give away his young daughter to a local shopkeeper, who lost a child of her own, so that Claire can have a better life.

But on the night of Claire's seventh birthday, when at last he makes the wrenching decision to do so, she disappears. As Nozias and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself. Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share with the natural world and with one another. Embracing the magic and heartbreak of ordinary life, it is Edwidge Danticat's most spellbinding, astonishing book yet.

Part One
Claire of the Sea Light

The morning Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin turned seven, a freak wave, measuring between ten and twelve feet high, was seen in the ocean outside of Ville Rose. Claire's father, Nozias, a fisherman, was one of many who saw it in the distance as he walked toward his sloop. He first heard a low rumbling, like that of distant thunder, then saw a wall of water rise from the depths of the ocean, a giant blue-green tongue, trying, it seemed, to lick a pink sky.

Just as quickly as it had swelled, the wave cracked. Its barrel collapsed, pummeling a cutter called Fifine, sinking it and Caleb, the sole fisherman onboard.

Nozias ran to the edge of the water, wading in to where the tide reached his knees. Lost now was a good friend, whom Nozias had greeted for years as they walked past each other, before dawn, on their way out to sea.

A dozen or so other fishermen were already standing next to Nozias. He looked down the beach at Caleb's...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The opening chapter of Claire of the Sea Light moves backward chronologically through each of Claire's birthdays, ultimately returning to the present day of the narrative. How does this structure contribute to the book's sense of time overall, and to its weaving of past and present as more characters are introduced?
  2. What does it mean that Albert Vincent is both the town of Ville Rose's undertaker and its mayor? How are these dual roles reflected in his relationship with Claire Narcis, Nozias's wife and Claire's mother, when she works for him preparing bodies for burial?
  3. That Claire visits her mother's grave on her birthdays brings poignantly to the fore the notion that life and death are intertwined. In ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

In Claire of the Sea Light, Haiti, once again, is her own formidable character. One with a deeply capricious nature: by turns sublime, terrible, even bizarre. Through Danticat's intoxicating prose, it seems almost possible to feel the drizzle of a sun shower, taste salt in the sea air. Throughout this work as a whole, Danticat reminds us just how powerful certain moments can be, and that whether these moments are precious, tragic, wishful, or frightening, they may mysteriously lead to a life both beautiful and uncorrupted.   (Reviewed by Suzanne Reeder).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Ann Patchett, New York Times bestselling author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto
As an ardent admirer of Edwidge Danticat's writing, I opened Claire of the Sea Light as if it were a gift. My high expectations were met, and then surpassed. The story she has given us is at every turn surprising, shimmering, deft. It is a jewel - a remarkable book, as luminous as its title.

Booklist

In interlocking stories moving back and forth in time, Danticat weaves a beautifully rendered portrait of longing in the small fishing town of Ville Rose in Haiti. ... [Characters'] stories and lives flow beautifully one into another, all rendered in the luminous prose for which Danticat is known.

Kirkus Reviews

Her prose has the shimmering simplicity of a folk tale and the same matter-of-fact acceptance of life's cruelties and injustices...Both lyrical and cleareyed, a rare and welcome combination.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Danticat paints a stunning portrait of this small Haitian town, in which the equally impossible choices of life and death play out every day.

Essence

In the end, this provocative fable, which plays out in a single night, delivers us back to our real worlds, safe enough but somehow touched in ways we may not fully know for days to come.

Ebony

Danticat weaves her magic as we wrestle with what’s happened to Claire, and why everybody in town [has] a secret that has to do with her.

Reader Reviews
Diane S.

Claire of the Sea Light
Love the title of this book and the cover, even though I read it on my kindle I can see the cover on this site. This book was like a circular maze, where the prize is in the middle and you just follow in circular movements. It starts with a young ...   Read More

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Haiti's History of Lawlessness

Since its independence in 1804, Haiti has struggled with lawlessness, due in large part to being a former slave nation that, after it won its independence, was left with the massive challenge of creating a stable and autonomous society while being actively isolated by the dominant trading nations of France, Britain and the USA.

Before 1804 Haiti was a French colony called St. Domingue that occupied the entire island of Hispaniola. By the 1760s it had become the most profitable colony in the Americas, with highly successful sugar and coffee industries. With this success, however, came the exploitation of African slaves. The French Revolution inspired slaves in northern St. Domingue to organize a rebellion, which began in 1791. This ...

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