Claire of the Sea Light

Claire of the Sea Light

August 16, 2013

Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share wi...

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Historical Fiction

256 Pages

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Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share with the natural world and with one another.

Claire of the Sea Light is a novel by Edwidge Danticat that was published in August 2013 by Knopf.

Edwidge Danticat born January 19, 1969 is a Haitian-American novelist and short story writer.

In 1993, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Brown University—her thesis, entitled "My turn in the fire – an abridged novel", was the basis for her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was published by Soho Press in 1994. Four years later it became an Oprah's Book Club selection.


The literary journal Granta asked booksellers, librarians, and literary critics to nominate who they believed to be the country's best young author. The standards were that the person must be an American citizen under the age of 40 and must have published at least one novel or collection of short stories before May 31, 1995. In 1997, at the age of 27, with 19 other finalists, Danticat was named one of the country's best young authors.


Since completing her MFA, Danticat has taught creative writing at the New York University and the University of Miami. She has also worked with filmmakers Patricia Benoit and Jonathan Demme, on projects on Haitian art and documentaries about Haïti. Her short stories have appeared in over 25 periodicals and have been anthologized several times. Her work has been translated into numerous other languages, including Japanese, French, Korean, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish.


Danticat is a strong advocate for issues affecting Haitians abroad and at home. In 2009, she lent her voice and words to Poto Mitan: Haitian Women Pillars of the Global Economy, a documentary about the impact of globalization on five women from different generations.

Awards and honors


Danticat has won fiction awards from Essence and Seventeen magazines, was named "1 of 20 people in their twenties who will make a difference" in Harper's Bazaar, was featured in The New York Times Magazine as one of "30 under 30" people to watch, and was called one of the "15 Gutsiest Women of the Year" by Jane magazine.


    1994 Fiction Award The Caribbean Writer

    1995 Woman of Achievement Award, Barnard College

    Pushcart Short Story Prize for "Between the Pool and the Gardenias"

    National Book Award nomination for Krik? Krak!

    1996 Granta magazine's Best Young American Novelists

    Lila-Wallace-Reader's Digest Grant

    1999 American Book Award for The Farming of Bones

    The International Flaiano Prize for literature

    The Super Flaiano Prize for The Farming of Bones

    2005 The Story Prize for The Dew Breaker

    2005 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for "The Dew Breaker"

    2007 National Book Award nomination for Brother, I'm Dying

    2007 The National Book Critics Circle Award for Brother, I'm Dying

    2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Brother, I'm Dying

    2009 MacArthur Fellows Program Genius grant

    2009 The Nicolas Guillen Philosophical Literature Prize, Caribbean Philosophical Association

    2011 Langston Hughes Medal, City College of New York

    2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for Create Dangerously

    2012 Smith College Honorary Degree

    2013 Yale University Honorary Degree

    2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, shortlist for Claire of the Sea Light

    2014 PEN Oakland – Josephine Miles Literary Award

    2017 Honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) degree from the University of the West Indies Open Campus

    2017 Neustadt International Prize for Literature

    2020 Everything Inside named a finalist for The Story Prize

    2020 Vilcek Foundation Prize in Literature




    Breath, Eyes, Memory (novel, 1994)

    Krik? Krak! (stories, 1996)

    The Farming of Bones (novel, 1998)

    Behind the Mountains (young adult novel, 2002, part of the First Person Fiction series)

    After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti (travel book, 2002)

    The Dew Breaker (novel-in-stories,2004)

    Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 (young adult novel, 2005, part of The Royal Diaries series)

    Brother, I'm Dying (memoir/social criticism, 2007)

    The Butterfly's Way (anthology editor)

    Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work (essay collection, 2010)

    Eight Days: A Story of Haiti (picture book, 2010)

    Tent Life: Haiti (essay contributor, 2011)

    Haiti Noir (anthology editor, 2011)

    Best American Essays, 2011 (anthology editor, October 2011)

    The Last Mapou (children's novel, January 2013)

    Claire of the Sea Light (novel, August 2013)

    Haiti Noir 2: The Classics (anthology editor, January 2014)

    Mama's Nightingale (picture book, September, 2015)

    Untwine (young adult novel, October 2015)

    The Art of Death (biography, July 2017)

    My Mommy Medicine (picture book, February 2019)

    Everything Inside (stories August 2019)


Short stories

"The Book of the Dead". The New Yorker: 194–. June 21, 1999.

"Ghosts". The New Yorker. 84 (38): 108–113. November 24, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2009.

"Quality Control". The Washington Post. November 14, 2014. Retrieved January 31, 2015.

Claire of the Sea Light Set in the island-town of Ville Rose, Haiti, it narrates the story of the disappearance of a seven-year-old girl, Claire Limyè Lanmè Faustin, and of the memories of an entire townspeople that are brought to life in the wake of her disappearance. In the words of Guardian reviewer Kamila Shamsie, "Danticat shows us a town scarred by violence, corruption, class disparities and social taboo, which is also a town of hope, dreams, love and sensuality. But these are enmeshed rather than opposing elements. Love leads to violence, dreams lead to corruption."


The author was a finalist for Claire of the Sea Light for the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, earning a cash prize. The novel received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, which called the book "gorgeous, arresting, and profoundly vivid" and praised its depiction of the town. The book appeared on 2013 best book lists of Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, National Public Radio, and The Washington Post.





Kamila Shamsie


Edwidge Danticat was already halfway through writing Claire of the Sea Light, set in the fictional coastal town of Ville Rose in Haiti, when the 2010 earthquake devastated that country. Ville Rose, located 20 miles south of Port-au-Prince, would have been affected by the earthquake, and Danticat must have known that readers would come to the book carrying the weight of that knowledge, and that their reading would be altered by it. Some writers might have chosen to move the fictional town out of the earthquake's range, others to write the earthquake into the book. But as Danticat explained in an interview with Guernica magazine: "At some point in the writing, even before the earthquake happened, this place I was writing about became a town on the verge of disaster." The what-really-happened-later aspect of the book doesn't detract from or diminish what is contained in its pages; it magnifies it.


One of the great successes of this book – with its interconnected tales that bring it closer to novel than short-story collection – is how adeptly Danticat mines that "verge" for its emotional and dramatic possibilities. So many lives teeter on the brink, but not without the possibility that something might yet save them from going over the edge entirely. At the heart of the novel is the title character Claire Limyè Lanmè, or Claire of the Sea Light. A young girl whose mother died giving birth to her, Claire is the walking embodiment of the interconnectedness of life and death, hope and despair. Her father, Nozias, has been trying to convince the wealthy fabric-vendor Gaëlle to adopt Claire – not because he lacks parental love or responsibility, but because the financial circumstances of his life mean he must go away to try to earn a living, and it is impossible to take a daughter with him. The best thing he can do as a father, he feels, is to find a new parent who he trusts to look after his child. The book starts on Claire's seventh birthday, which is also the third anniversary of Gaëlle's daughter's death – and after years of saying no, Gaëlle agrees to adopt Claire. Hearing the news, Claire runs away – and it isn't until the final chapter that we discover what happens to her.


In between the first and last section, Danticat leads us into the lives of other characters in Ville Rose: the fabric vendor, Gaëlle; the radio newswriter, Bernard, whose loose connection to gang members has terrible consequences for his life, and for Gaëlle's; Bernard's close friend, Max Junior, an affluent young man who commits a crime against the family's cook, Flore, in order to hide a truth about himself that he shouldn't have to conceal; Louise George, the popular radio presenter who has been having an affair with Max Junior's father. The stories of these characters entwine further as the book progresses, until the penultimate chapter, which touches the lives of everyone – or everyone who has survived. Through the different stories, Danticat shows us a town scarred by violence, corruption, class disparities and social taboo, which is also a town of hope, dreams, love and sensuality. But these are enmeshed rather than opposing elements. Love leads to violence, dreams lead to corruption. The triteness of the "for every darkness there is light" defence of places that have something rotten at their core is expertly revealed here. If the core is rotten, Danticat knows, everything beautiful will be touched by blight.


Some of the finest writing in this book combines a dual sense of beauty and blight – there is a magnificent section about the pregnant Gaëlle's fascination with the carcasses of frogs that have exploded due to the extreme heat. At night she dreams of "frog carcasses slithering into her mouth and down her throat"; by day she performs "a wordless burial for a handful of frog skins"; and all the while the only two scents that don't make her retch are "the clammy odour of dead frogs and the inky fragrance of brand-new cloth, which she enjoyed so much that at times her husband suspected her of secretly nibbling away at their merchandise whenever she was at their fabric shop". It is disturbing, certainly, but also captivating – which is true for the book as a whole. And don't be fooled by the slightly fairytale quality of the woman and the frog carcasses – this is a book that draws its power from its clear-eyed look at both love and decay.


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