Reviewed by Tracey Michae'l Lewis-Giggetts
Book summary: 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.
Some books are complex to their detriment. They have layer upon layer of narrative and subplots that attempt to add depth to a story, but often feel cumbersome. In a phrase, they are “all over the place.” Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat is not one of those books.
Every birthday since she was three finds Claire Limyè Lanmè ("Claire of the Sea Light"), facing the possibility of being given away by her father, Nozias, a man who has struggled greatly since the loss of his wife during Claire's birth. He doesn't know what to do with the girl child and wants her to have a better life, although it seems as though he's not always sure if that “better” life should include him or not. Hence,every year he backs out of following through with sending her away. When he finally does gets up the nerve to let her go for real, she runs away.
It's at this point in the story that the book takes a sharp turn and delves into the lives of the intriguing cast of characters in the small town of Ville Rose, Haiti,where Claire and Nozias live. Crisscrossing through time, the reader will slowly begin to see the three (not even six) degrees of separation between all the characters—from Louise, the radio D.J. out for revenge, to Max Jr., the young man who is willing to avoid his father’s disappointment at any cost—andspecifically how a series of events (thedeath of both a child and a fishermen, a scandal, a missing girl) connects them all.
The thematic thread that holds the various pieces of this story is this: You can be lost to the “seas” of life and still decide to return to what is familiar, even when it’s the familiar that broke your heart. Again and again, the characters face this conflict.
The only challenging part of the book, the part that will likely make most readers scratch their heads in confusion, is the abrupt ending. Given the intertwining plot that is reminiscent of the movieCrash, a nice, neat bow on the story certainly could not be expected. However, there was very little wrap-up to some of the more significant loose ends, and that left this reviewer wanting.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Danticat is an eloquent beast when it comes to words and for that alone, Claire of the Sea Light receives one grand plate of grillot with a side of diri a djon djon: because her use of language and story are absolutely delicious.
Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts is a writer and educator based out of the metro Philadelphia area. She is the author of six books including The Gospel According to Sasha Renee and Interruption: The Gospel According to Crystal Justine (both part of the "Gospel of Grace Women" trilogy) and The Unlikely Remnant. Formerly the Managing Editor at CLC Publications, a 72 year-old publisher of Christian nonfiction, Tracey now teaches writing and publishing courses at Philadelphia University, Rosemont College, and the Community College of Philadelphia. She is a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. You can visit Tracey Michae'l online at www.traceymlewis.com.
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