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Book Review: Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat (3/5)

24 Feb

Book clubs are so good for introducing you to new titles. I’d never heard of this one before but I was intrigued that it was set in Haiti as I’ve never read a book set there before. I liked it, I didn’t love it, but the storytelling was really good.

Cover image via

Cover image via

 Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Summary from Goodreads:

Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—is an enchanting child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and on each of her birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her mother’s grave. Nozias wonders if he should give away his young daughter to a local shopkeeper, who lost a child of her own, so that Claire can have a better life.

But on the night of Claire’s seventh birthday, when at last he makes the wrenching decision to do so, she disappears. As Nozias and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself.

This book was completely different from what I was expecting.  To be honest, I was anticipating The Light Between Oceans in Haiti in terms of a missing child and someone mourning her. I liked the way Danticat wove the story by telling connected stories across time and space. It was more than the story of Claire and finding her, you had to understand why her father was going away, why Madame Gaelle wanted her, and more that I won’t reveal here. It gave you a background that you didn’t realize was important until the end.

I think that’s the one thing that bothered me. I didn’t realize what I was reading was relevant to the story until the final pages and I was thinking Why are you telling me this? for a lot of the story.

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone from Haiti before. At least not intimately; it’s likely I’ve met someone in passing. Because I don’t know the country or the people very well, it was hard for me to judge if they were portrayed accurately. Seeing as the author was born in Port-au-Prince, I’m assuming the people are accurate. Danticat lives in Miami so I’m guessing that her opinions of ex-pat Haitians might be an evaluation of her opinions on herself. Interesting.

Bernard was my favorite character. I thought he was the most likable of the narrators we were introduced to and the most sympathetic. When we find out his secret at the end of the book, I started to re-question his story and I liked that Danticat made me do that. He was a small part in Claire’s total story, but very key. I wish he’d had a longer part to play.

Nozias’ story spoke to a lot more people than those who had been in his situation. Not everyone has to give up a child, but everyone has had to do something hard that they didn’t want to do. We’ve put these things off and tried to find reasons not to do them, but in the end they always catch up to us. I pitied Nozias but I also related to him.

Because Bernard was my favorite character, his story was my favorite in the book. I thought it had a lot to say about humans and how they treat each other and about life in Haiti. I didn’t think the other sections touched on both of these so well. Bernard was a very driven person and I liked his dedication.

Max Junior’s section was my least favorite while reading it, but after reading the ending, I liked it a lot more. I thought Max was a very selfish and bad person at first. I didn’t want to like him and I wanted his section to be over faster so that I could get on to someone I liked more. After reading the end, I felt bad for him and I wish I’d had a hint of that pity while he was narrating, but I think Danticat made the right choice on pacing by not telling her reader too much.

Edwidge Danticat Image from the ALA website

Edwidge Danticat
Image from the ALA website

Claire’s path was affected by many people she didn’t even know. Our lives are so connected that it’s likely I don’t know or remember the person who had the biggest impact on my life. This is reminding me of Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven now that I think about it. Someone like Louise affected how Claire’s life played out, but she had no idea. I wonder which invisible characters have changed my life.

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing though multiple points of view can be challenging and making each character important and memorable is harder. Danticat does a wonderful job in this book of giving me people with unique personalities that I care about and showing how they’re all important to the overall plot. I’ve very impressed with her writing.

She takes a country I know little about and gives me just enough to give everything context without dumbing the context down for me. I love exploring new places through literature and Danticat made it easy.

Well written and enjoyable. Three out of Five stars.

This book fulfills the 200-Present time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Review: Claire of the Sea Light; Edwidge Danticat | My Good Bookshelf
Claire of the Sea Light | Shelf Love
Edwidge Danticat: Claire of the Sea Light | Sliver of Stone Magazine