Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
Copyright 2013
A. A. Knopf - Fiction
256 pp.

To be released 8/27/13

First sentence:

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 of the Sea Light is partly about Claire, a young girl who goes missing on her 7th birthday, when she is told to gather her possessions. She is being given to a shopkeeper by her father. Claire's mother died in childbirth and her father, a fisherman, wants to give her a chance at a better life.  

But, the story is not just about Claire. Claire's life serves as the framework for a novel that encompasses the lives of a number of interconnected people in the coastal town of Ville Rose, Haiti, where a only a small percentage of residents are wealthy and the rest are desperately poor.  

My thoughts:

I was surprised how little of the book is actually dedicated to Claire (whose full given name translates to "Claire of the Sea Light", hence the title), instead using her story to explore the lives of people in the city and how they intersect, mostly through violence and heartbreak. In general terms, I think the story is about the difficulty of life in Haiti, even for the wealthy, but you could also say it's about life and death, love and heartbreak, kindness and violence. The publisher's description mentions "secrets" that gradually come to light and those tend to be pretty horrifying - rape, murder, affairs.  There are acts of kindness, also, and Claire's deceased mother is described as an especially gentle and kind person, but the good is definitely overshadowed by by the bad.

I honestly didn't have a lot of patience with Claire of the Sea Light, which surprised me because I've wanted to read a book by Edwidge Danticat for many years and jumped at the opportunity to read her latest.  All the dots were connected, eventually, but the story leapt around too much and was perhaps a bit too sad for me, at this moment.  

Recommended but not a favorite - I'm hoping this was simply a case of bad timing. Claire of the Sea Light's characterization is excellent and I liked the book more on reflection than during the reading, as I pondered the connections and how the author used Claire's story to describe the intersecting lives, the dysfunctional legal system and disastrous poverty and violence in Haiti. I couldn't find a Ville Rose in Haiti maps so I'm assuming the author took a real area and fictionalized it, based on the fact that she tossed in a bit of history about Pauline Bonaparte's unfinished castle.  I will definitely give the author's work another try, but I found Claire of the Sea Light an average read. 

Vocabulary moment:

"Some years they'd actually made a profit from their wild vetiver, which was not only good for the soil but also much sought after by two perfume company suppliers in the nearby southern city of Les Cayes."

vetiver: (noun) - A fragrant extract or essential oil obtained from the root of an Indian grass (Vetiveria zizanioides), used in perfumery and aromatherapy.

I received an ARC of Claire of the Sea Light from Alfred. A. Knopf in return for an unbiased review.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

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