Book Review: Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
(Alfred A. Knopf; 256 pages; $25.95).
In Claire of the Sea Light, Edwidge Danticat, author of The Dew Breaker, brings the rich culture of Haiti to life on the page. Despite the title, the story is less about the main character, Claire Limyè Lanmè (“Claire of the Sea Light”) Faustin, than the people who inhabit the Haitian village of Ville Rose. Danticat expertly charts how tragedy is an everyday occurrence in the community as mothers die in childbirth, daughters in car accidents, fathers from gunshot wounds, and friends are lost to the sea. Nozias, Claire’s father, worries over the fate of his daughter if an accident should befall him. His anxiety has merit, as he and his neighbors live precariously: disaster is part of their everyday lexicon. Nozias knows this more than most as his wife died while giving birth to Claire. Danticat does an excellent job of placing the reader in his mindset, urging us to sympathize with a father desperate to make the right choices for his daughter. When Claire turns ten, Nozias decides to give her to a local woman, who lost her own daughter in a horrific accident, to raise. Claire gets wind of the plan and flees. Danticat’s storyline suffers as she explores the lives of villagers and loses her overall focus. Although the plot periodically meanders, the author’s language is magical and striking. A “wall of water” rose “from the depths of the ocean, a giant blue-green tongue, trying, it seemed, to lick a pink sky.” Sometimes when Claire was “lying on her back in the sea, her toes pointed, her hands facing down, her ears half submerged, while she was listening to both the world above and beneath the water, she yearned for the warm salty water to be her mother’s body, the waves her mother’s heartbeat, the sunlight the tunnel that guided her out the day her mother died.” Ultimately, Claire of the Sea Light is a breathtaking but sometimes uneven character-driven novel.