Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
I read the eponymous first chapter almost a year ago and then stopped. I listened to the same story – the absolute highlight in the disappointingly uneven collection Haiti Noir – so smoothly, lullingly read by Robin Miles, and again stopped. The book stayed on my desk because although I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, I couldn’t bear to be too far from the potential of opening the pages at any moment. Call me obsessive, insane, pathetic, or any combination thereof: guilty as charged. Because I knew that finishing this, the divine Edwidge Danticat’s latest, would leave me both awed and bereft. Again, guilty as charged.
Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin opens and ends the interconnected stories about the residents of Ville Rose, a town by the sea in Haiti. She is just 7 years old, the child of a buried mother who shared her name Claire, of a still-grieving father who took three years to finally claim his little girl whose birth coincided with her mother’s premature death. Love makes him willing to sacrifice her once more, convinced that she will live a better life as someone else’s daughter rather than his own.
And so the stories spill forth: of the milk mother who once nursed the newborn, who long before lost her husband, and then loses her own daughter, who was crazed enough to create her own justice. Her violence deprives another of true love, who compensates by living a life of lies that nearly destroys him. That man’s father, an inconsistent lover of perhaps too many women, allows one of his longtime companions to be shockingly humiliated who, in turn, wreaks her own revenge. These mothers’, fathers’, and children’s intertwined lives will all lead back to Claire, and her father’s impossible decision about her future …
Danticat, quite possibly the best known Haitian American writer ever, creates a mesmerizing collage of multiple lives that flow and retreat, not unlike the waves surrounding the seaside village. An unseen character is lost to the sea, his wife unable to speak. A son escapes to Miami, without acknowledging his own son. Generations immigrate and never return, or come visit bearing complaints and excuses. As Claire and her father attempt to move forward, life rushes on and around them, never allowing them to stay in one place for long. Danticat creates an exquisite record of the every day, of our immutable dependencies and necessary separations. Like the very best moments, Danticat’s words are over far too quickly, yet the shimmering afterglow is sure to linger indefinitely.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult