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CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT comes to us as the new novel-- it's novella length, really -- from international best-selling Haitian author Edwige Danticat, whose previous works of fiction include the award-winning Brother, I'm Dying, and The Dew Breaker. Like much, if not most of her work, it's set in Haiti. Apparently before the horrendously damaging earthquake that hit in 2010 leaving so many hundred thousands dead, seriously injured, homeless, without access to clean food or water, and so many of the buildings, so much of the infrastructure of the small, poverty-stricken country destroyed. Jonathan Katz's The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster is a good recent book on the earthquake and its aftermath; I have read and reviewed it on its page here.

CLAIRE is set in Ville Rose, Haiti, a small seaside town that is home to about eleven thousand people. It centers on Claire Limye Lanme Faustin, Claire of the Sea Light, the lovely daughter of Nozias Faustin, a humble fisherman who lives with his small daughter in a shack on the beach. Claire's mother Claire Narcis had died in childbirth; every year, on the little girl's birthday, her father has taken her to the cemetery to visit her mother's grave. He has been trying, unhappily, for several years to give his girl, so that she might have a better life, to Gaelle Lavaud, a local shopkeeper, a woman of means from a prominent local family, who is the town's only fabric vendor. She had lost her own little girl Rose in a car accident. On Claire's seventh birthday, a day when they have already been to the cemetery, and already marked by the death at sea of Caleb, another, older, fisherman, snatched by a rogue wave, the shopkeeper suddenly agrees to take Claire. And Claire goes missing, begins to feel herself to be Claire de Lune: Claire of the Moon. As the townsfolk search for the little girl, their connections to each other and to Claire and their individual stories are revealed.

This tightly woven story is told with great intensity and lyricism. It gives us an evocative, beautifully detailed portrait of the natural setting of the town, Ville Rose's social life and folk ways, and the lives of its individual residents. It does not flinch from showing us incidents of violence, even murder, that occur in the town. I believe it to be a true likeness of the poverty-racked island nation where it is set. The many Haitians who have settled in New York are there widely considered to be diligent, hard-working, and volatile: A Haitian parole officer a few years ago committed murder in New York's Family Court. And within the last day or two, BBC News has published a chart showing that Port-Au-Prince, Haiti's capital, has the fourth highest murder rate in the world. Perhaps I read too many murder mysteries, but there is, in fact, a murder mystery in this book, one which its author does not underline, emphasize, nor solve: she leaves us wondering.

The prolific Danticat's BROTHER, I'M DYING was a National Book Critics Circle Award and National Book Award finalist; Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah Book Club selection; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; The Farming Of Bones, an American Book Award winner; and THE DEW BREAKER, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize. The writer is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times and elsewhere. After long being resident in Brooklyn, New York, she now lives in Miami, Florida.

From my first acquaintanceship with CLAIRE, I loved this book. I heard its author reading the first chapter while driving, and found myself crying at the wheel. Perhaps not to every reader's taste, surely to mine.
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on 12 October 2014
I would call this an island story where many of the lives of these Haitians are interwoven as their personal stories unfold. The novel opens with everyone looking for Claire, a seven year old girl who disappears after her birthday party. Her father, a widower, is about to give her away to a woman of means who he thinks can give her a better life. As everyone is looking for Claire, a series of events and stories are happening simultaneously. The subplots include tragedies such as murders, cover-ups; attempted suicides and radio exposures as readers hold their breath to see if Claire will reappear and face her life.
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on 19 June 2015
Had read this back in 2013 but felt like I was reading it for the first time all over again. The story could have done with more depth and feels like it ended rather too abrupt but as always I really enjoy Edwidge's style of writing.
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on 4 May 2015
Another winner by Danticat!
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