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CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT by Edwidge Danticat

CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT

By Edwidge Danticat

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-27179-2
Publisher: Knopf

Danticat’s first fiction in nine years (The Dew Breaker, 2004, etc.): a snapshot of 21st-century Haiti in the form of stories unfolding around a little girl in the coastal town of Ville Rose.

Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and on the evening of her seventh birthday in 2009, her father, Nozias, a poor fisherman, agrees to give her to Madame Gaëlle, an affluent fabric vendor whose own daughter died three years earlier in a traffic accident. Claire runs off to think things over, and the narrative circles back to chronicle Gaëlle’s pregnancy and the death of her husband in a random gang shooting. From there, we travel to Cité Pendue, a festering slum on the outskirts of Ville Rose, where Bernard Dorien’s tentative steps toward a better life are violently halted after he is accused of complicity in that shooting. The intricate, sometimes-intimate interconnections between rich and poor in a small town are evident in the story of Bernard’s friend Max Ardin Jr., son of the elite local private school’s arrogant proprietor, and Flore, the family’s maid, whom he raped and impregnated 10 years earlier. Flore gets her revenge by exposing his crime on the popular local radio program Di Mwen—Creole for “tell me.” (Danticat makes evocative use of Creole’s distinctive French/African cadences throughout, and the novel’s title translates her protagonist’s full Creole name, Claire Limyè Lanmè.) Louise George, host of Di Mwen, has her own reasons for humiliating the Ardins; motivations are never simple in Danticat’s nuanced presentation. Her prose has the shimmering simplicity of a folk tale and the same matter-of-fact acceptance of life’s cruelties and injustices. Yet, despite the unsparing depiction of a corrupt society in which the police are as brutal and criminal as gang members, there’s tremendous warmth in Danticat’s treatment of her characters, who are striving for human connection in a hard world.

Both lyrical and cleareyed, a rare and welcome combination.