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Claire of the Sea Light (Vintage Contemporaries) [Paperback]

Edwidge Danticat
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Book Description

July 2014 Vintage Contemporaries

A New York Times Book Review and Washington Post Notable Book of the Year, an NPR "Great Read," a Christian Science Monitor Best Fiction Book, and a Library Journal Top Book

Just as her father makes the wrenching decision to send her away for a chance at a better life, Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—suddenly disappears. As the people of the Haitian seaside community of Ville Rose search for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed. In this stunning novel about intertwined lives, Edwidge Danticat crafts a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores the mysterious bonds we share—with the natural world and with one another.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307472272
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307472274
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13.2 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 328,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Magnificent ... this is a book that draws its power from its clear-eyed look at both love and decay' Kamila Shamsie, Guardian.

'A jewel - a remarkable book, as luminous as its title' Ann Patchett.

'A haunting new novel ... Writing with lyrical economy and precision, Ms. Danticat recounts her characters' stories in crystalline prose that underscores the parallels in their lives' New York Times. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Edwidge Danticat was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the author of several books, including Brother, I'm Dying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; 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, winner of the inaugural Story Prize. She lives in Miami with her family.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Made Me Cry at the Wheel 30 Aug 2013
By Stephanie De Pue TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous and heartfelt 10 July 2013
By B. Case - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Claire of the Sea Light" is a marvelous and multifaceted literary gem that dazzles with the author's trademark elegant, vivid, lyrical prose. The novel reads like a collection of interlocking short stories. The stories concern different characters living in and around the community of Ville Rose, Haiti, a place that's "home to eleven thousand people, five percent of them wealthy or comfortable, the rest poor, some dirt-poor."

Each chapter forms a more-or-less self-contained story. The experience of reading these stories was like wandering through a beautiful literary gallery. Slowly, as I devoured the details of these stories, I started to see patterns. I noticed that all of the stories contained a single element that transects the others at a key period in time. That period is the day of Claire's seventh birthday. In the end--and then only through thoughtful retrospect--I finally comprehended the many separate threads that pull together to create the whole. The ending is brilliant and exquisite...frankly, I was a bit awe-struck.

Although the book is named after this child and her birthday serves as the focal point for the interlocked stories, the novel actually focuses on the lives of six Haitian adults, four men and two women. The book is also rich in secondary characters. If this novel has a major theme, it can be summed up by this Haitian creole phrase that is often repeated by different characters throughout the work: fòk nou voye je youn sou lòt - we must all look after one another.

This is a psychologically rich, character-driven, literary novel; it is quiet but powerful; it is gripping in its emotional depth. After I finished this novel, I had no desire to read anything else for a few days. I needed time to think about it and continue to let my emotions resonate with the feelings the novel evoked. In a way, it was like listening to a gorgeous and complicated piece of classical music and not wanting to just rush in and applaud, but rather wanting to listen to the silence that follows in order to better appreciate the beauty of what I've just experienced.

In 2009, the author was named a MacArthur Fellow (also referred to as the MacArthur Genius Award). That Fellowship is a half-a-million-dollars, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown "exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more." At the end of "Claire of the Sea Light," Danticat credits this Fellowship with giving her "the time to attempt this book." We are now in the fortunate position of being able to read one of the fruits of this Fellowship. It is a creative tour de force.

If you've already read and love the works of Edwidge Danticat, you'll not be disappointed. If you've never before had the opportunity to read this amazing author, this book will suit as a stunning and enjoyable introduction.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven effort 25 Dec 2013
By Read-A-Lot - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Are we predetermined to heap praise on particular books because of the author's reputation? Dare I be a dissenting voice in the sea of "wonderful," "great," and "fantastic" adjectives attached to this novel. Isn't the phrase "well written" a bit overused? Indeed that is the minimal expectation, is it not? These are the questions that immediately came to mind upon finishing the novel.

So, yes the prose is majestic however the story is disconnected and not really memorable. It is an ok effort from Ms. Danticat. I thought the first part was strong, and was eager to see how it all tied together. Much to my chagrin, the story never does colligate to a central theme.

We are left with characters who are related by location, but no relevance to any grand tie in that the novel desperately needs. So, is the story about Claire? The sea? The small town of Ville Rose? Well, it is a bit about all this and more. It really comes off as a collection of stories coming from this small fishing hamlet that is vividly described by the author's talent. Claire is not on many pages, which I find interesting given the book's title.

She really is is not a central character although the circumstances surrounding her birth hint to be. Not sure, what Ms. Danticat was after, but many paths are left unexplored in favor of peripheral characters who readers may feel don't add to the narrative. I would term this one a small disappointment.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memorable 21 Sep 2013
By Sam Sattler - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
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.
30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars De-LIGHT-ful 27 Jun 2013
By Pretty Brown Girl - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Claire of the Sea Light is a novel that read almost like a series of short stories of characters connected directly and indirectly to the novel's namesake Claire, a young, motherless girl who lives with her father in a Haitian sea village.

The novel danced on magical folklore, myth/superstition, and was steeped in a strong sense of community and duty. It is a folksy novel that explores a parent's love, a child's desire to please, and lovers' remorse.

While I didn't have any misgivings about the novel, I had trouble empathizing with the characters -- including the child Claire. All the characters had their secrets and while in my opinion, I found the "reveals" a bit obvious and predictable which disappointed me as a reader. I guess I expected a bit "more."

I think fans of the author will embrace this story as it aligns with her previous work which brings sympathy and hope to the depths of poverty.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An indelible portrait of life in Haiti 9 Sep 2013
By Bookreporter - Published on
Edwidge Danticat is arguably modern literature's most poetic conscience of Haiti. Through her lyrical works of fiction and nonfiction, including her story collection KRIK? KRAK! and her 2004 novel THE DEW BREAKER, she has painted an indelible portrait of life in her poverty-stricken country of birth. Now, in CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT, her first novel in nine years, she returns to Ville Rose, the Haitian village where some of the stories in KRIK? KRAK! were set, to tell the story of a seven-year-old girl, her family, and many of the town's inhabitants.

In the first of the eight interlocking stories that constitute the novel, we meet Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin; her name means "sea light" in Creole. On the morning of her seventh birthday, she and her fisherman father, Nozias, are in their shack when he sees a freak wave crash in the Caribbean Sea. The wave not only destroys the cutter Fifine but also sinks Nozias's friend Caleb, the only fisherman on board. Nozias blames himself for the tragedy: If only he had woken earlier, he would have been out on the water and could have saved his friend.

Claire's mother, also named Claire, died while giving birth to her. Unsure how to feed his newborn, Nozias brought Claire to Madame GaŽlle, a well-to-do woman who ran a fabric shop, when Claire was a baby. At the time, Madame Gäelle had a three-year-old daughter, Rose, and, when approached by Nozias, agreed to nurse Claire. Thereafter, Nozias refers to Rose and baby Claire as milk sisters, which they remain until Rose is killed in an accident after a car rear-ends the motto taxi (motorcycle taxi) in which she is riding.

Nozias knows that he is unable to give Claire the life she deserves. On Claire's sixth birthday (the first half of the opening chapter moves back and forth in time), Nozias asks Madame GaŽlle if she will take Claire. "Pou chèche lavi," he explains: He wants to go away to make a better life. But Madame GaŽlle declines. "Not today," she says.

On the night of Caleb's disappearance, however, as the townsfolk gather by the water to make a bonfire and say blessings in Caleb's honor, Madame GaŽlle tells Nozias that she will take Claire. When he asks her why she chose tonight to change her mind, Madame GaŽlle mysteriously responds, "It's now or never." Nozias orders Claire to return to the shack to get her things. But when Claire doesn't return to the beach, Nozias realizes that she has run away.

The stories that follow chronicle the lives of the town's other denizens, many of whom Danticat introduces us to in the opening. We meet Laurent Lavaud, Madame GaŽlle's husband, the man who started the fabric shop and who encounters troubles at the local radio station where he runs ads for his business. Max Ardin, Senior, is the headmaster of the school where Claire has been given a charity scholarship. His son, Max Ardin, Junior, works as a newswriter at the radio station but is sent to Miami when he impregnates the family's maid. Louise George, the host of a radio talk show called "Di Mwen" ("Tell me"), sleeps with Max Senior, occasionally reads to Claire and the other children at the school, and uses the power of the airwaves to get back at Max Senior after an embarrassing episode in which Nozias is peripherally involved. And lingering in the background of all these stories is the mystery of Claire Limyè Lanmè and her whereabouts.

CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT is more complex than you might expect from a short novel. This is a tribute to Danticat's skill as a writer. She knows how to dispense just enough information to help you immediately understand each character's personality and conflict. And she achieves this effect with beautiful sentences. The young woman whom Max Junior impregnates reflects upon his privileged upbringing: "He had never, as her mother liked to say, even been sprinkled by the rain." Another character has a mother whose "stern expression never changed. It was as if the heat of the kitchen had melted and sealed it." The large cast occasionally forces Danticat to break a storyline's tension and keep an interesting character out of the novel for too long, and Claire is less vividly drawn than most of the adults. But the beauty of the prose makes up for these shortcomings.

Reviewed by Michael Magras
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