Claire of the Sea Light (Danticat) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The images in Edwidge Danticat's haunting new novel…have the hard precision and richly saturated colors of a woodblock print or folk art painting…[T]his book uses overlapping tales to create an elliptical but propulsive narrative…There is something fablelike about these tales; the reader is made acutely aware of the patterns of loss and redemption, cruelty and vengeance that thread their way through these characters' lives, and the roles that luck and choice play in shaping their fate…Writing with lyrical economy and precision, Ms. Danticat recounts her characters' stories in crystalline prose that underscores the parallels in their lives.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


At first, I resisted what appeared to be the fablelike delicacy of…Claire of the Sea Light. Was it going to be too precious? Would [Danticat's] lyricism camouflage or ennoble Haiti's life-or-death struggles? But it quickly became apparent that her hypnotic prose was perfectly suited to its setting, the tragic and yet magical seaside town of Ville Rose…In and out of bedrooms, graveyards, restaurants and bars, even the local radio station, Danticat creates rich and varied interior lives for her characters.
Deborah Sontag - New York Times Book Review


[I]n her rich new novel, Claire of the Sea Light, Danticat continues to speak in a captivating whisper. Claire of the Sea Light [is] a collection of episodes that build on one another, enriching our understanding of a small Haitian town and the complicated community of poor and wealthy, young and old, who call it home. From the first page to the last covers only a single day, but Danticat dips into the past to illuminate the recurring coincidence of life and death among these people.... The apparently disparate parts of the story knit together in surprising ways that seem utterly right.... One of Danticat’s most entrancing talents is her ability to capture conflicted feelings with a kind of aching sympathy.... Danticat has perfected a style of extraordinary restraint and dignity that can convey tremendous emotional impact. But in celebration of Claire, the life force of this novel, she delivers a kind of incantation that repels the rising tide of despair.... That’s a tall order for a name—or a novel. But it’s not beyond Danticat’s power.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


Rising above the sea, Ville Rose is a place of immense beauty and overwhelming poverty, and where only the very few live comfortably . . . The imperative to do right by the next generation is at the center of Danticat’s tale, set in the fictional town she sketched in Krik? Krak!, [which] here gets a fuller portrait.... The book shifts backward and forward over a decade but is not set at a moment of particular peril; the danger Danticat shows us is plentiful in the everyday: the sea that drowns a fisherman, the gangs that rule by bloodshed, the droit du seigneur that results in a maid bearing the child of one of the town’s wealthy young men . . . Danticat’s language is unadorned, but she uses it to forge intricate connections—the story stealthily gains in depth and cumulative power. The dexterity of Danticat’s sympathy is an even match for her unflinching vision.
Laura Collins-Hughes - Boston Globe


In Danticat’s luminous new novel, the search for [a] missing 7 year-old girl serves as a way of re-examining what we overlook and undervalue in life. Set on a single day, Danticat tells the story through a kaleidoscope of perspectives that illuminate life in the island nation where the roles of ex-pats, gangs, radio journalists and shopkeepers crisscross the landscape. In a voice tuned to the frequency of sorrow, with a calmness that neither apologizes nor inflames, [Danticat] lays out the terrible choice that many in Haiti have faced: Keep a child in deepest poverty or offer the child to someone with better prospects.... Danticat is a beautiful storyteller who doesn’t shy from the brutalities...but she also applies a finely tuned sensibility to the beauty that surrounds the pain.... The search [for Claire] provides the vehicle to examine the lives of the perpetually unseen, the less-than, the lost. In the final chapter, we see the story through [Claire’s] eyes with an unexpected burst of clarity that wows the reader. The day comes to an end in much the same place where it started. But the village—and readers—are changed. Danticat’s determination to face both light and dark brings the story to life. But her skill as a writer makes the balancing act a pure pleasure to read.... A remarkably well-plotted combination of mystery and social critique.
Amy Driscoll - Miami Herald


Fiercely beautiful.... Ville Rose is a fictional place, but it’s described here with the precision and detail of a work of literary.... The landscape of Ville Rose is as rich and varied as the Macondo of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.... Danticat is a prose stylist with great compassion and insight. And by shifting seamlessly in time and point of view, the sensational turns in her novel quickly lead us back to people who are struggling with concerns that are all too real. Danticat’s characters are caught between the hurt a poor country can inflict on its citizens, and the love those citizens feel for their birthplace.... Claire of the Sea Light brims with enchantments and surprises. Danticat finds a way, in the book’s final pages, to convincingly bring her diverse cast of back to the Ville Rose seaside on the same fateful night at which the novel opens. That final feat of writing brilliance brings Claire of the Sea Light to a place few novels reach: an ending that is at once satisfying and full of mystery.... Impressive.
Hector Tobar - Los Angeles Times


Gorgeous, arresting, profoundly vivid.... Danticat once again tells a story that feels as mysterious and magical as a folk tale and as effective and devastating as a newsreel.... The book begins on the morning of [Claire's] birthday, before winding back to tell the story of every previous birthday, and who lived, and died, each year. For some time, Claire’s father has considered giving her [away], and the heartbreaking question of Claire’s fate adds to the novel’s suspense, as both the past, and this single day, unfold.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) A new offering from National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Danticat is always cause for celebration. She has the ability to conjure up the rarified air of Haiti as she manages to pull tightly at one's heartstrings; this novel is no exception. Highly recommended. —Susanne Wells, Indianapolis
Library Journal


[M]otivations are never simple in Danticat's nuanced presentation. Her prose has the shimmering simplicity of a folk tale and the same matter-of-fact acceptance of life's cruelties and injustices. Yet, despite the unsparing depiction of a corrupt society in which the police are as brutal and criminal as gang members, there's tremendous warmth in Danticat's treatment of her characters, who are striving for human connection in a hard world. Both lyrical and cleareyed, a rare and welcome combination
Kirkus Reviews




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