Claire of the Sea Light

by Edwidge Danticat

Hardcover, 2013

Call number

FIC DAN

Collection

Genres

Publication

Knopf (2013), Edition: First Edition, 256 pages

Description

"The interconnected secrets of a coastal Haitian town are revealed when one little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, goes missing"--

Media reviews

User reviews

LibraryThing member FrancescaForrest
I really loved this book; I thought it was beautiful, and I loved all the characters. You know how sometimes people say, "I didn't care about the characters"? I felt as opposite from that as one can. I cared about them so much: Nozias, the fisherman, his daughter Claire Limyè Lanmè--Claire of the Sea Light, Gaëlle the fabric vendor, her husband Laurent, Bernard the radio newswriter, his dear friend Max Junior, Max's father, who runs the school where Claire goes, Louise, the host of the gossip program Di Mwen, Flore, a rape survivor, and other, more minor characters. These characters are sometimes in opposition, sometimes do terrible things, and yet their thoughts, feelings, and lives are revealed with such sensitivity and compassion that you'd have to have a heart of stone not to love them.

The language is so clear and vivid; the place comes so alive. I feel like I've stood beside that sea, walked those streets, slept on those beds. Here is the sea:

People liked to say of the sea that lanmè pa kenbe kras, the sea does not hide dirt. It does not keep secrets. The sea was both hostile and docile, the ultimate trickster. It was as large as it was small, as log as you could claim a portion of it for yourself. You could scatter both ashes and flowers in it. You could take as much as you wanted from it. But it too could take back. You could make love in it and you could surrender to it, and oddly enough, surrendering at sea felt somewhat like surrendering on land, taking a deep breath and simply letting go. You could just as easily lie down in the sea as you might in the woods, and simply fall asleep.


And here is what it is to be touched, after years of loneliness and grief:

He hadn't been kissed by a woman in that way since his wife died, a kiss so pure that it felt like it was polishing him. He felt as though his body had turned to gold. A stream of light was coursing through him, and when he reached up to touch her face, he felt both their bodies expand beyond the size of the room.


My first experience of this book was of a portion of it--a short-story portion--read on Selected Shorts. The language drew me in, and I listened, transfixed. That story had a terrible, heartbreaking end. This one does not. There are some heartbreaking moments, and some ends for some characters, but the novel overall is as luminous as its title.

And, on a personal note--which should probably not be in a review, but where else can I record this?--there are two pregnancies described in this book, and in both of them are idiosyncratic moments that made me recall vividly moments in my own first pregnancy. It made me wonder if the author, who has two daughters, had experienced similar, or whether those scenes were purely the product of her imagination. I doubt I'll ever know, but the result was a feeling of connection with the author. How strange it must be to realize you've created this connection for people, just by your words and story.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
Danticat is one of my favorite authors. I've loved everything that I read by her - fiction, short stories, or non-fiction. But her fiction is sometimes quite difficult to read, dealing with war and oppression in her native Haiti. [Claire of the Sea Light] is different. It does not deal with horrors that cut as deeply as those in her other fiction. But her beautiful use of language and her talent in telling a story are clearly on display once again.

The story begins on the seventh birthday of Claire Limye Lanme, Claire of the Sea Light. Claire's mother died in childbirth, and she is being raised by her father, a fisherman, in a small Haitian seaside town. As Claire's father worries about whether he can continue to raise Claire, their lives intertwine with others in the town, each of whom is dealing with their own struggles. Danticat takes us back in time to help us understand the forces that have shaped the unique bonds between these people and that will determine their fates. In some ways, this is a quiet book, but one that is surprising in its impact.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Danticat's latest novel provides another moving portrait of life in a Haitian community. It begins and ends with the story of Claire Limyé Lanmé on her seventh birthday. As he has for each of her past birthdays, her widowed father Nozias considers giving his daughter to Gaëlle Lavaud, a seamstress who tragically lost both her husband and daughter. The developing chapters interweave the stories of these people with those of their neighbors: the lost fisherman Caleb and his wife Josephine; Gaëlle's husband Laurent; Max Ardin, Sr., the owner of the local radio station, and his son, Max, Jr.; Bernard Dorien, a young man struggling to avoid life in the gangs; Flore, the Ardins' former maid, and her young son; Louise George, a radio talk show hostess. Life for these people is hard, often sad and sometimes violent, but it is not without its moments of joy.

While Danticat creates a vivid and moving portrait, I have to say that this isn't a book that made a great impression on me or will stay in my memory long. I appreciated it as something different from my usual reads but, based on how much it held my interest, I can only give it a mild recommendation.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
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 seven yr. old Claire going missing from her village and home. This is not a linear book so after this we learn about the villagers that make up this town called Ville Rose. At one point when they switched to a new story I thought to myself, what does this have to do with anything, but shortly thereafter it all came clear.

We do not learn very much about the political situation in Haiti, as this is a character driven novel, with the town being one of the characters. We only learn about things in a wider view when they effect either a villager or the town, such as the gangs that prevailed at the time. Claire's mother died when she was born, in Haiti this made Claire a revenant. The characterizations are fantastically presented, one learns many things that happened before Claire was born, things that would effect Claire later. We learn about Claire's mother just from the viewpoints of the other characters. The language of the novel sometime reads almost like poetry, so many of the phrases are just beautiful, like those describing the ocean.

There are no great action scenes, this is a quiet but poignant novel. I have never read Danticat before, but I am anxious now to do so.
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LibraryThing member bookmuse56
This was a 3.5 star read for me.

In language poetically beautiful and painstakingly precise, Danticat infuses her characters with dignity as they navigate through the loss of innocence and the burden of guilt with a dollop of hope in the small seaside town of Ville Rose. The book opens with the story of Claire Limye’s Lanme’s (Claire of the Sea Light) life up until the morning she turns seven, which is also a day of death to her as her mother died in childbirth, and her father struggles with the decision of his seeking more opportunity and Claire’s future. The book also ends with Claire’s story on the night of her seventh birthday making a decision on her future and how she will handle her legacy. In between the story fills out with the interconnected stories of the other residents of Ville Rose and the surrounding area.
Like sea mist blowing the fable/fairy tale-like atmosphere of the story often felt like a barrier for me to see the characters more clearly and thus be emotionally involved with them. The scenes conjured up also had a dreamlike quality.
I liked how Danticat subtly showed how the fate and hardships of the town residents was often a product of Mother Nature and/or the changing political scene.
Once again Danticat moves her storyline along through the pain of her young characters and her love for Haiti.
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LibraryThing member pinkcrayon99
Each story that makes up Claire of the Sea Light is melancholy. Births and deaths coincide in Ville Rose, Haiti. Nozias, a fisherman, and his daughter, Claire, are residents of Ville Rose and live by the sea. On the day of Claire's seventh birthday, the lives of several Ville Rose residents begin to evolve and intersect.

Claire was only seven but it felt like she had lived a lifetime. Claire's mother, whose name was Claire also, died in childbirth. Nozias felt somewhat defeated throughout the novel. Their life and story was a simple one but it was magnified by the lives of others around them.

Danticat leads out in the present goes in reverse and ends in the present. No need to worry you never get lost and the background is needed. It feels like she is being deliberately focused with each story. Connections are made slowly at first but Danticat continues to build. There were times that I was amazed at how she weaved one character's life into another. In all this storytelling Claire's story remained in a fog.

Danticat gives an aerial view of Claire's life by sharing the intimate details of the lives of others living in Ville Rose. Most of all I favored the women of Claire of the Sea Light. They were strong but they also took ownership of their flaws. They suffered incredible losses but refused to be overwhelmed by grief. By telling the stories of these women Danticat gave a clear view of how Claire was also becoming one of them.

**Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher. The views and opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
I was drawn to this book because of the beautiful title, and I was not disappointed.

It starts with Claire, a little Haitian girl being cared for by her widowed father. Interestingly, it goes backwards in time for awhile, her 7th birthday, what happened on her 6th birthday, her 5th, and so on.

And then suddenly, it is not about Claire anymore. It tells the story of one person and then another, and then another. Minor characters become major, major characters become minor, and it all ties together in a lovely circularity. There are blanks to be filled in by the reader's mind, and it sometimes takes the long way around. It is a book to be savored for the writing, not for the action, not for the suspense or plot, but just for the pure enjoyment of reading the words strung together so well.

I was given an advance copy of the book for review.
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LibraryThing member eachurch
When I first finished it, I thought that it was more of a collection of short stories than a novel, but the over-lapping characters and the way the stories fit together (with each one illuminating something about an earlier story), make it into a novel. Danticat's prose is vivid and lovely. The book itself is really more about a place than about Claire, but the place is interesting enough that that doesn't matter. (Besides Claire of the Sea Light is a fabulous name.)… (more)
LibraryThing member csayban
I was really looking forward to Claire of the Sea Light because I am always interested in works that bring far-off places and cultures that I will probably never have the opportunity to visit to life. And while Danticat did provide a look inside the culture of Haiti, the constant changes of character perspectives and reversals in the timeline of the story made it difficult for me to ever connect with any of the characters. In fact, the Claire of the title may be the least important or interesting character of them all. Claire of the Sea Light felt like a collection of short stories that are stitched together with clever little ties, but ultimately I became disinterested in all of the characters and their stories. Danticat simply didn't provide anyone to root for. While there is nothing flagrantly wrong with the book, there really isn't a compelling reason to recommend it either. Frankly, I was pretty disappointed.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narshkite
This is a hard book to rate. The language is so beautiful, it is like music. I don't think there is a better craftsman (or, I guess craftswoman) working. Danticat also does a spectacular job of making you a part of the town. The ending was wonderful and brings so much together. But. You knew there was a but. There was a stretch in the middle of this short novel where it was wildly unclear why she was talking about what she was talking about, and there was not enough momentum for me to wonder or care. I am glad I stuck it out, the payoffs were worth it, but it keeps this book from being perfect. I read and enjoy lots of imperfect books, but this one was so close it's imperfection was a disappointment. Also, I want to mention that I listened to this on audio and the reader, Robin Miles, was glorious.… (more)
LibraryThing member brangwinn
Despite the "magical prose" of this book, I had trouble relating or empathizing with any of the characters. And forming some sort of connection with who I am reading about is important to me. Set in Haiti, the connecting stories revolve around Claire, who's mother died in childbirth. If nothing else the reader walks away with a knowledge of how much poverty there is in Haiti. Perhaps that's the real reason I didn't find this book endearing. Am I one of these people who want to ignore the conditions of others? Perhaps this is the mark of a great author, making me uncomfortable.… (more)
LibraryThing member SamSattler
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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LibraryThing member Schatje
This series of interlocking stories is set in Ville Rose, a small seaside town in Haiti. The title character, Claire Limyè Lanmè, serves as a focal point in that all the stories transect on her seventh birthday, but the book is really about the lives of various community members: a poor fisherman, a wealthy businesswoman, a schoolmaster and his wayward son, the hostess of a radio interview show, a would-be investigative radio journalist, and Claire. Multiple points of view are provided and narratives shift backwards and forwards over a decade.

A major theme is that of death and loss. Almost everyone is touched by death, whether natural, accidental or criminal, or loss through absence. Wives (Gaëlle, Josephine) lose husbands; husbands (Nozias, Max Sr., Albert) lose wives; children (Claire, Pamaxime) lose parents; parents (Gaëlle, Max Sr., Max Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Dorien) lose children. It is fitting therefore that the mayor is the town’s undertaker. It is the pain of loss, however, that binds them all together; Gaëlle realizes that “Her pain, her losses: these were what was keeping her in this town.”

Another major theme is love, particularly parental love. Various parents show love for their children in different ways. Nozias expresses his love for his daughter Claire by listing what he wants for her: “a lack of cruelty, a feeling of safety, but also love. Benevolence and sympathy too, but mostly love.” Some show their love by sending their children away. One character who is struggling with the idea of being a parent is told that “The worst possible case of unrequited love . . . was feeling rejected by a parent.”

Despite the brutal reality portrayed in the book, it is not without hope. The author suggests that there is hope in telling one’s story and in looking after one another. Both are alluded to in oft-repeated Creole phrases: “Di mwen” and “Fòk nou voye je youn sou lòt.”

The style of the book verges on magic realism and that is not a style I enjoy, but the presentation of the interior lives of characters is interesting.
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LibraryThing member nittnut
I really like Edwidge Danticat. Her voice, her use of language, just pulls me in to the story. And when the story is over, I always feel a little bereft. Claire of the Sea Light is the story of Claire, told through the stories of those around her. I loved how the story began with Claire's 7th birthday and then moved backward through time to her birth and then circled back to her 7th birthday again. I especially loved the images of waves and animals and events in the sea that were used to illustrate stories of love, birth, death and loss. There really is something different about the relationship of island people to the sea.

The other girls didn't always like this song because it was not a real wonn song. It was a fisherman's song. Although the melody was cheerful, the words were sad. You never got back things that fell into the sea. She was surprised that the granmoun, the adults, were not singing this song all day long. So much had fallen into the sea. Hats fell into the sea. Hearts fell into the sea. So much had fallen into the sea.
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LibraryThing member nittnut
I really like Edwidge Danticat. Her voice, her use of language, just pulls me in to the story. And when the story is over, I always feel a little bereft. Claire of the Sea Light is the story of Claire, told through the stories of those around her. I loved how the story began with Claire's 7th birthday and then moved backward through time to her birth and then circled back to her 7th birthday again. I especially loved the images of waves and animals and events in the sea that were used to illustrate stories of love, birth, death and loss. There really is something different about the relationship of island people to the sea.

The other girls didn't always like this song because it was not a real wonn song. It was a fisherman's song. Although the melody was cheerful, the words were sad. You never got back things that fell into the sea. She was surprised that the granmoun, the adults, were not singing this song all day long. So much had fallen into the sea. Hats fell into the sea. Hearts fell into the sea. So much had fallen into the sea.
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LibraryThing member nyiper
A one day story told from all the different points of view so that you picked up the entire background leading up to the day in question, again, as it concerned each person's memory. This is perhaps a book that needed, for me, the written as well as the audio version. The reader, Robin Miles, is excellent, but there are so many descriptions that you almost need to hear things a few times to truly absorb the beautiful pictures being painted for you in the words.… (more)
LibraryThing member storm_indigo
The writing in this book is nothing short of luminous. The stories are intertwined, as people in a village tend to be, I suppose. This story, about this child and her town is probably Danticat's best writing. My favorite book last year, hands down.
LibraryThing member ccayne
Beautifully written tale of lives in a small village in Haiti which intersect.
LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
Set in a small coastal fishing village in Haiti, it is the story of Claire and her father and their life after Claire’s mother dies in childbirth. Many of the people of Ville Rose are close to Claire and her father, and their stories are woven together in Danticat’s beautiful prose.
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
Claire of the Sea Light I do love the way Edwidge Danticat writes. This book is full of lovely passages but never feels overwritten. You never get the idea that Danticat is trying too hard; this is just the way she expresses herself. The book feels effortless, and yet it's hard to find a page without a memorable, evocative paragraph.
 
For example:
 

It was so hot in Ville Rose that year that dozens of frogs exploded. These frogs frightened not just the children who chased them into the rivers and creeks at dusk, or the parents who hastily pried the slimy carcasses from their young ones' fingers, but also twenty-five-year-old Gaelle, who was more than six months pregnant and feared that, should the temperature continue to rise, she too might burst. The frogs had been dying for a few weeks, but Gaelle hadn't noticed at first. They'd been dying so quietly that for each one that had expired, another had taken its place along the gulch near her house, each one looking exactly the same and fooling her, among others, into thinking that a normal cycle was occurring, that young was replacing old, and life replacing death, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly. Just as it was for everything else.

 
(I defy you to find a more elegant paragraph about exploding frogs.)
 
And yet, much like Colum McCann's Transatlantic, all of the gorgeous words don't seem to add up to much. Danticat does a wonderful job of creating her setting--Ville Rose, a small village in Haiti--but she doesn't seem to do a lot with it. Claire of the Sea Light is less a novel than a series of connected short stories, so we meet many of Ville Rose's inhabitants. But most of the characters, with the exception of Nozias, lack depth.
 
The book's milieu is intriguing, but the themes are slight. And--again like Transatlantic--the stories don't come together at the end in a satisfying way. I don't need everything to wrap up neatly--that would be far too artificial--but I do want to feel at the end that every character's story was vital to the larger themes of the book. And I didn't get that here. Instead, as I finished the last page, I just felt wistful for the book this could have been if Danticat had plumbed the depths of her characters and their village just a bit more.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
stories interwined with stories and still it is one story about these people in a village. always changing the prospective of the main teller. give you each side of the story. very interesting atmosphere.
LibraryThing member shemsu
Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian born writer. I first fell in love with her as a teenager with her debut novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, where she examined the psychological damage mothers do to their daughters in the name of love and guidance. Over the years Danticat’s novels and short stories have made readers fall in love with the people and language of Haiti.

Danticat’s stories are like onions and with each chapter you peel back a layer to reveal stories within the story. In Claire of the Sea Light, she unwraps the lives of the people and families living in a small seaside Haitian community.

Claire Limye Lanme or Claire of the Sea Light in English, is a revenan, a child who’s mother died giving birth to her. Her father has done the best he can with her, as a fisherman, but he wants her to have a mother, to raise her and give her better opportunities. He has spent the past 7 years of Claire’s life trying to lovingly give her away. We meet them when he has yet another opportunity to make this difficult decision.

However, the story is so much more than just Claire and her father. Danticat explores the interconnections of the community and how an individual’s decision influences the whole. She looks at what people sacrifice for each other or for themselves. She shows a people struggling to survive and thrive and how that can both make or break an individual.

I loved it. Danticat has a gift for words. Claire of the Sea Light is yet another fascinating exploration of Haitian life. She reveals the humanity of a people that are often only seen as victims and peasants.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
Edwidge Danticat's novel relates the interconnected stories off a small coastal town, Ville Rose, outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The narrative begins and ends on the same day, the day a local fisherman went missing after his small boat is smashed by a rouge wave. Nozias Faustin was on the beach that morning and saw his friend Caleb out fishing. He watched a "wall of water rise from the depths of the ocean, a giant blue-green tongue, trying, it seemed, to lick a pink sky." This is the same day that Gaelle Lavaud finally decides to accept Nozias Faustin's proposal that she raise his daughter so that he can go find a better life. His daughter Claire whose mother died giving birth to her is now seven and runs away upon hearing of the arrangement. --Don't worry, folks, no spoilers, that's just the first few pages. Through proceeding flashbacks we get the back story of this scene, as well as a portrait of the present day Haitian culture, its heartache, its loss of natural resources, and its violence.
This is the third book of I have read of Edwidge Danticat's work. I love her easily read, colorful prose; her descriptions of this town and its people are part magical realism,( one character bleeds from her mouth during her menstrual cycle ) and part non-fiction. Historical elements like the collapse of a school and the custom of having your children become a restavèk give the novel weight. There are a few other of Danticat's works out there that I have not read, but I will be sure to get to them.
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LibraryThing member FrancescaForrest
I really loved this book; I thought it was beautiful, and I loved all the characters. You know how sometimes people say, "I didn't care about the characters"? I felt as opposite from that as one can. I cared about them so much: Nozias, the fisherman, his daughter Claire Limyè Lanmè--Claire of the Sea Light, Gaëlle the fabric vendor, her husband Laurent, Bernard the radio newswriter, his dear friend Max Junior, Max's father, who runs the school where Claire goes, Louise, the host of the gossip program Di Mwen, Flore, a rape survivor, and other, more minor characters. These characters are sometimes in opposition, sometimes do terrible things, and yet their thoughts, feelings, and lives are revealed with such sensitivity and compassion that you'd have to have a heart of stone not to love them.

The language is so clear and vivid; the place comes so alive. I feel like I've stood beside that sea, walked those streets, slept on those beds. Here is the sea:

People liked to say of the sea that lanmè pa kenbe kras, the sea does not hide dirt. It does not keep secrets. The sea was both hostile and docile, the ultimate trickster. It was as large as it was small, as log as you could claim a portion of it for yourself. You could scatter both ashes and flowers in it. You could take as much as you wanted from it. But it too could take back. You could make love in it and you could surrender to it, and oddly enough, surrendering at sea felt somewhat like surrendering on land, taking a deep breath and simply letting go. You could just as easily lie down in the sea as you might in the woods, and simply fall asleep.


And here is what it is to be touched, after years of loneliness and grief:

He hadn't been kissed by a woman in that way since his wife died, a kiss so pure that it felt like it was polishing him. He felt as though his body had turned to gold. A stream of light was coursing through him, and when he reached up to touch her face, he felt both their bodies expand beyond the size of the room.


My first experience of this book was of a portion of it--a short-story portion--read on Selected Shorts. The language drew me in, and I listened, transfixed. That story had a terrible, heartbreaking end. This one does not. There are some heartbreaking moments, and some ends for some characters, but the novel overall is as luminous as its title.

And, on a personal note--which should probably not be in a review, but where else can I record this?--there are two pregnancies described in this book, and in both of them are idiosyncratic moments that made me recall vividly moments in my own first pregnancy. It made me wonder if the author, who has two daughters, had experienced similar, or whether those scenes were purely the product of her imagination. I doubt I'll ever know, but the result was a feeling of connection with the author. How strange it must be to realize you've created this connection for people, just by your words and story.
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Pages

256

ISBN

030727179X / 9780307271792
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