On her 7th birthday, a little girl named Claire disappears in a seaside Haitian village. Through Claire’s fictional journey, award-winning author Edwidge Danticat shares glimmers of her own childhood in Haiti.
In Claire of the Sea Light, the protagonist’s mother died during childbirth, and her father is a poor fisherman, struggling to make ends meet. Just moments before his daughter disappears, Claire’s father had agreed to let a local woman adopt her in hopes of giving his daughter a better life.
Word of Claire’s disappearance spreads through the village. From there, the reader is taken on a journey through time, connecting lives in unexpected ways.
Danticat tells Weekend Edition host Rachel Martin how her own experiences as a child in Haiti helped to shape this luminous young character.
On the characters as survivors of grief
“The way that they survive is by the sense of community that this town offers. One of these things that Claire’s mother liked to say was “Fòk nou voye je youn sou lòt,” “We must all look after each other.” Because their town is so small, and they’re sort of precariously always on the verge of instability, the healing comes through their healing as a community.”
On Danticat’s separation from her parents as a child
“We were not a family of means, and my parents, I think, had a difficult choice that a lot of parents have. I stayed behind with my uncle and his wife, and we grew up in a house that was full of children like us, cousins whose parents were in Canada, in the Dominican Republic. We had also grown up with a notion — and I think this is something I wanted to show in the book — that family is not always just mother, father. I didn’t feel abandoned, you know, even at that young age. I understood that it was something my parents were doing to offer us a better opportunity.”
On the sea as its own character
“I just fell in love with the idea of writing about the sea, and there are many proverbs the sea in Haitian Creole. You know, one is … ‘The sea doesn’t hide dirt,’ and proverbs about, you know, ‘My back is as large as the sea,’ which is something you say if people start talking badly about you. And, of course, for a lot of people in terms of migration, the sea is also the way out. So, you have an island and you have the sea, and it’s extraordinarily fascinating to me.”