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Book review: Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Danticat rewards patient readers by connecting the disparate characters who populate a coastal Haitian town, but not everything clicks.


By Edwidge Danticat. Knopf, $26.

Edwidge Danticat’s latest book begins with a disappearance. Caleb, a Haitian fisherman is washed away from his vessel by a huge wave and presumed dead. It’s this reminder of the hazards of his profession that propels Nozias, another fisherman and one of the book’s central characters, to renew his search for an adoptive family for his daughter, Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin. Then, just after Nozias succeeds, Claire herself vanishes. Has she run away? Is her absence, like Caleb’s, a fatal one? These questions, and the relationship between absence and mortality, occupy the rest of the book.

In its first half, Claire of the Sea Light moves from character to character, sometimes skipping through time, to portray the lives in a small Haitian town. The structure seems loose at first; in the book’s second half, however, Danticat begins to draw her characters together, revealing new dimensions in some of them. Near Sea Light’s end, a radio host who allows locals to air their grievances ponders her role in shaping stories. The character and broadcast mirror Danticat’s approach, which rewards the reader’s patience with a series of revelations about the connections between seemingly disparate events. Not all of these disclosures entirely click, however: Would-be radio producer Bernard—whose role in the plot becomes especially complex—isn’t fully developed enough to bear the narrative weight Danticat places on him. Still, the father-daughter relationship at the heart of this book is affecting, and certain passages (including one page-long meditation on the sea and death) are breathtaking.

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