In the decade since Edwidge Danticat published her last novel, The Dew Breaker, Haiti has been drowned by hurricanes and shaken by earthquakes. At each cataclysmic crisis, the plight of her homeland dominated the worlds attention and then quickly faded into the background radiation of suffering that passes through most of us unnoticed.
By RON CHARLES
The Washington Post
For someone born in Port-au-Prince, the temptation to rage at the publics fickle concern must be immense. But in her rich new novel, Claire of the Sea Light, Danticat continues to speak in a captivating whisper. While disasters threaten to reduce the Haitian people to an undifferentiated mass of misery, her work pushes back, restoring the variegated colors of humanity that storms and death and our own compassion fatigue would wash away.
The eight chapters in this trim novel resemble the exquisite short stories that earned Danticat the Story Prize in 2004. But even though these chapters often reach in different directions and sometimes concern different characters, Claire of the Sea Light remains a novel, a carefully integrated collection of episodes that build on one another, enriching our understanding of a Haitian town and the complicated community of poor and wealthy, young and old, who call it home.
Time is a slippery surface in this book. It covers only a single day, but Danticat dips into the past to illuminate the recurring coincidences of life and death.
We meet Claire Limy Lanm Faustin in 2009 on her seventh birthday and the seventh anniversary of her mothers death. Each year on this day, she and her father leave their one-room shack to visit the cemetery. And each year, the fabric vendor who wet-nursed Claire arrives to see if the time is right to finally take her away.
Its a ritual fraught with hope and dread, a fathers love torn between the desire to keep his daughter close or to give her a better life.
Danticat is no magical realist the peculiarities of this gorgeous, gruesome place are magic enough but she builds her novel around the uncanny tragedies that accumulate on the anniversary of Claires birth.