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Claire of the Sea Light Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 27, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (August 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727179X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271792
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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. Seven-year-old Claire Faustin’s mother died giving birth to her. Each year, her father, Nozias, feels the wrenching need to earn more money than poor Ville Rose can provide and to find someone to care for Claire. Gaelle Lavaud, a fabric shop owner, is a possible mother for the orphaned child, but she is haunted by her own tragic losses. Bernard, who longs to be a journalist and create a radio show that reflects the gang violence of his neighborhood, is caught in the violence himself. Max Junior returns from Miami on a surreptitious mission to visit the girl he impregnated and left years ago and to remember an unrequited love. Louise George, the raspy voice behind a gossipy radio program, is having an affair with Max Senior, head of the local school, and teaches the ethereally beautiful Claire. Their stories and their lives flow beautifully one into another, all rendered in the luminous prose for which Danticat is known. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The best-selling Danticat’s (Brother, I’m Dying, 2007) return to fiction after nine years is sure to be highly anticipated --Vanessa Bush


Claire of the Sea Light doesn’t have a dull moment. Danticat’s captivating visual descriptions of Ville Rose, a seaside town in Haiti, engulf the reader’s psyche. But it’s the core human struggles that make it impossible to put the novel down . . . She brilliantly sheds light on an array of human issues with sexuality, identity, politics, class . . . A heartfelt journey.” —Zayda Rivera, New York Daily News
“[An] extraordinary talent in full flower . . . . There’s a Faulknerian quality to Claire of the Sea Light, in the way it examines and presents the lives, plural, and life, singular collective, of a specifically imagined local community from multiple points of view, showing how human stories and lives ramify through and across each other in ways both touching and tragic . . . Astonishing . . . True and beautiful.” —Ethan Casey, The Huffington Post
“Intoxicating . . . Compelling . . . Illuminating . . . Danticat’s substantive work of fiction powerfully explores a vast array of human emotions . . . With great sensitivity and compassion, Danticat evokes the complexity of these giant emotions in women, men and children . . . A book of many triumphs, poignant and vivid, [that] 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.” —Suzanne Reeder, BookBrowse
“Not just a novel about a missing girl—a look at the intersections of loss, longing and place . . . The novel bubbles over with secrets. The concluding image is one of resuscitation. . . Claire of the Sea Light is a stylistic achievement; the beautiful prose, captivating story and intricate narrative structure are to be savored.” —Julie Hakim Azzam, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“There is no such thing as Haiti. Or, as Danticat makes clear in Claire of the Sea Light, there is no such thing as one Haiti, no single truth. Danticat has been fixing and unfixing her native country since the appearance of her first book, Breath, Eyes, Memory. She is a writer inhabited, a writer dedicated to opening her reader’s eyes to something she keeps trying to see for herself.  The characters of this novel are vivid and intensely personal. If you hope for a glimmer of Haiti; if you understand that to care about Haiti is also to lose it, to mourn it; or, to care about Haiti is to breathe and taste it and to sigh and delight; if you can bear to face the deep uneasiness of the impossible, then you will know you are blessed by Edwidge Danticat.” —Susanna Sonnenberg, San Francisco Chronicle

Claire of the Sea Light is Danticat’s first novel since the 2010 earthquake, which destroyed so much of the country . . . The stories are set in a near, undefined past, but there’s a distinct sense that most of what Danticat is describing is now gone. There are no omens or soothsayers, and the richness of the place—the tropical vegetation, the precise placement of shops and homes, the Biblical presence and span of family trees—is often a source of joy. But it’s difficult not to imagine a grieving Danticat cataloging these as the losses she and other Haitians have suffered . . . Danticat has always portrayed Haiti with a careful lushness, but in Claire of the Sea Light she seems to have a new fervor.” —Dwyer Murphy, Guernica

“Haunting . . . the images in Claire of the Sea Light have the hard precision and richly saturated colors of a woodblock print or folk art painting: a great, Hokusai-like wave; a group of girls singing and dancing on the beach; a solitary woman standing alone by the cemetery gate . . . Like Danticat’s powerful novel The Dew Breaker, this book uses overlapping tales to create an elliptical but propulsive narrative. The title character is a 7-year-old girl, whose mother died giving birth to her. The perennial subjects in Danticat’s fiction and nonfiction—the weight of Haiti’s violent history, its extreme poverty and the diaspora that they have created—are addressed indirectly, through the stories of Claire and her family and neighbors in this small town where everyone knows everybody else. There is something fablelike about these tales; the reader is made acutely aware of the patterns of loss and redemption, cruelty and vengeance that thread their way through these characters’ lives, and the roles that luck and choice play in shaping their fate . . . Writing with lyrical economy and precision, Danticat recounts [their] stories in crystalline prose that underscores the parallels in their lives. One family after another is fractured by accidental death, by murder or by exile. Death and loss haunt characters in this novel, shadowing them like dogged ghosts. . . . In her memoir Brother, I’m Dying, Danticat wrote about her own sense of abandonment as a child, when first her father and then her mother left for New York, leaving her with relatives. In Danticat’s own story, and this novel’s story of Claire, love endures in the face of death and departure and disappointment.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Haunted by ghosts and grief, lifted by magic and love . . . Danticat takes the reader deep into [Ville Rose’s] past and the intricate, sometimes shocking connections among its people . . . She paints each of her characters and their town with vivid detail and lyrical language. The book’s plot unfolds not in a straight line but like the petals of a rose, stories one within another, each connected. Claire of the Sea Light is at times heartbreaking, but like the child whose name it bears, it is lit with its own inextinguishable glow.” —Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times
“Danticat is the literary voice of the Haitian diaspora who has won wide acclaim—a writer who can interpret both cultures and has a keen eye for the tensions between them. Claire of the Sea Light explores the interconnected lives of the inhabitants of a small coastal town in Haiti, yet even within this intensely local narrative, questions of exile and cultural identity are often hovering in the background . . . [It is] a complicated narrative of love, loss, murder and revenge, a web of relationships that transcend class and social divisions . . . Through Claire, the novel becomes a paean to whatever is sacred in the earth and water of this particular place. Claire of the Sea Light is written in the delicate, poetic style that Danticat is known for, which lends this story a fable-like quality. A rich story that provides a glimpse of modern Haiti, as well as a sense of its enduring spirit.” —Maria Browning, Nashville Scene
Claire of the Sea Light moves from character to character, sometimes skipping through time, to portray the lives of a small Haitian town. Danticat’s approach rewards the reader with a series of revelations. The relationship at the heart of this book is affecting . . . Breathtaking.” —Tobias Carroll, Time Out New York
“With glorious prose, Danticat’s latest novel paints a stunning picture of a small Haitian town and the secrets that emerge when a spirited young girl disappears on her seventh birthday.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A gorgeous novel that, through death, explores what it means to be alive . . . Danticat’s sly humor in disarming asides leavens the portent without upsetting the book’s sea-foam delicacy.” —B. Caplan, Miami New Times
Claire of the Sea Light reads like the work of a writer eager to create another world . . . A sense of the possibilities is tangible, where Danticat delves into parenting, revenge, reconciliation and remorse. Claire Limyè Lanmè is the daughter of a widower who is mulling whether or not to let someone else raise his daughter. In this small town, other mothers and fathers are working through reconciling their feelings about parenthood while readers experience a day in her life. Simultaneously, Danticat masterfully weaves in necessary parts of the past.” —Joshunda Sanders, Kirkus

“For someone born in Port-au-Prince, the temptation to rage at the public’s fickle concern [for Haiti] must be immense. But in her rich new novel, Claire of the Sea Light, Danticat continues to speak in a captivating whisper. Claire of the Sea Light [is] a collection of episodes that build on one another, enriching our understanding of a small Haitian town and the complicated community of poor and wealthy, young and old, who call it home. From the first page to the last covers only a single day, but Danticat dips into the past to illuminate the recurring coincidence of life and death among these people . . . Danticat is no magical realist—the peculiarities of this gorgeous, gruesome place are magic enough—but she builds her novel around the uncanny tragedies that accumulate on the anniversary of Claire’s birth . . . Danticat is a writer you can trust. The apparently disparate parts of the story knit together in surprising ways that seem utterly right . . . One of Danticat’s most entrancing talents is her ability to capture conflicted feelings with a kind of aching sympathy . . . Tightly wound threats of hunger and terror, delight and dread, vibrate through these pages . . . Danticat has perfected a style of extraordinary restraint and dignity that can convey tremendous emotional impact. But in celebration of Claire, the life force of this novel, she delivers a kind of incantation that repels the rising tide of despair. Hearing the villagers searching for the little girl ...

More About the Author

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969 and came to the United States when she was twelve years old. She graduated from Barnard College and received an M.F.A. from Brown University. She made an auspicious debut with her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, and followed it with the story collection Krik? Krak!, whose National Book Award nomination made Danticat the youngest nominee ever. She lives in New York.

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Customer Reviews

Magical and beautifully written.
Connie Bischoff
The connectivity of these wounded souls forms a human mosaic of experiences that ranges from love and grief to betrayal and redemption.
Roger Deblanck
Too many characters and there wasn't really a plot.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Claire of the Sea Light" is a marvelous and multifaceted literary gem that dazzles with the author's trademark elegant, vivid, lyrical prose. The novel reads like a collection of interlocking short stories. The stories concern different characters living in and around the community of Ville Rose, Haiti, a place that's "home to eleven thousand people, five percent of them wealthy or comfortable, the rest poor, some dirt-poor."

Each chapter forms a more-or-less self-contained story. The experience of reading these stories was like wandering through a beautiful literary gallery. Slowly, as I devoured the details of these stories, I started to see patterns. I noticed that all of the stories contained a single element that transects the others at a key period in time. That period is the day of Claire's seventh birthday. In the end--and then only through thoughtful retrospect--I finally comprehended the many separate threads that pull together to create the whole. The ending is brilliant and exquisite...frankly, I was a bit awe-struck.

Although the book is named after this child and her birthday serves as the focal point for the interlocked stories, the novel actually focuses on the lives of six Haitian adults, four men and two women. The book is also rich in secondary characters. If this novel has a major theme, it can be summed up by this Haitian creole phrase that is often repeated by different characters throughout the work: fòk nou voye je youn sou lòt - we must all look after one another.

This is a psychologically rich, character-driven, literary novel; it is quiet but powerful; it is gripping in its emotional depth. After I finished this novel, I had no desire to read anything else for a few days.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Read-A-Lot on December 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Are we predetermined to heap praise on particular books because of the author's reputation? Dare I be a dissenting voice in the sea of "wonderful," "great," and "fantastic" adjectives attached to this novel. Isn't the phrase "well written" a bit overused? Indeed that is the minimal expectation, is it not? These are the questions that immediately came to mind upon finishing the novel.

So, yes the prose is majestic however the story is disconnected and not really memorable. It is an ok effort from Ms. Danticat. I thought the first part was strong, and was eager to see how it all tied together. Much to my chagrin, the story never does colligate to a central theme.

We are left with characters who are related by location, but no relevance to any grand tie in that the novel desperately needs. So, is the story about Claire? The sea? The small town of Ville Rose? Well, it is a bit about all this and more. It really comes off as a collection of stories coming from this small fishing hamlet that is vividly described by the author's talent. Claire is not on many pages, which I find interesting given the book's title.

She really is is not a central character although the circumstances surrounding her birth hint to be. Not sure, what Ms. Danticat was after, but many paths are left unexplored in favor of peripheral characters who readers may feel don't add to the narrative. I would term this one a small disappointment.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on September 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Claire, because her mother died giving birth to her, lives alone with her father in a little Haitian shack by the sea. Nozias, her father, knows that he is incapable of raising a daughter alone, and on each of her last two birthdays he has tried to give her away to a better home - and he hopes, to a better life. Finally, on Claire's seventh birthday, a wealthy woman has agreed to take Claire home with her. Claire, despite knowing that such a day was inevitable, does not react well to the news and runs away before she can be handed off to her new mother.

"Claire of the Sea Light" is divided into two Parts, each part consisting of four stories from people in Claire's neighborhood. Some of them she knows well; some she has never met. There are memories from Claire's father, the woman who has agreed to take her, the headmaster from Claire's school, the headmaster's son, a close friend of the headmaster's son, a radio hostess who delights in exposing those who take advantage of the less fortunate among them, and from Claire herself. The eight pieces work beautifully together to tie all the central characters into the night in which Claire disappears. (The book begins and ends with Claire's story.)

This is a frank look at contemporary life in Haiti, one in which hard choices are sometimes forced upon those struggling to feed their families and keep them together. Its characters are grim reminders of life in a poor country the rest of the world is pretty much content to ignore. Edwidge Danticat is a talented writer whose work has been chosen as a National Book Award finalist, an American Book Award winner, a Pen/Faulkner Award finalist, and a Story Prize.
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on June 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Claire of the Sea Light is a novel that read almost like a series of short stories of characters connected directly and indirectly to the novel's namesake Claire, a young, motherless girl who lives with her father in a Haitian sea village.

The novel danced on magical folklore, myth/superstition, and was steeped in a strong sense of community and duty. It is a folksy novel that explores a parent's love, a child's desire to please, and lovers' remorse.

While I didn't have any misgivings about the novel, I had trouble empathizing with the characters -- including the child Claire. All the characters had their secrets and while in my opinion, I found the "reveals" a bit obvious and predictable which disappointed me as a reader. I guess I expected a bit "more."

I think fans of the author will embrace this story as it aligns with her previous work which brings sympathy and hope to the depths of poverty.
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