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Restavek

Claire of the sea light

Title: Claire of the sea light
By: Edwidge Danticat

I love the way Danticat starts this book by moving backwards in time, recounting each of Claire Limyè Lanmè’s* birthdays from age 7 to age 3 while simultaneously introducing the reader to some principal characters and ways of life in the town of Ville Rose. The book opens with Claire’s father, a widowed fisherman who wants to seek a better living elsewhere. He has decided to give his daughter to a woman who can take care of her. He has chosen Gaëlle, a person he thinks less likely to abuse his daughter as a restavek, a child sent to live with (“reste avec” in French) a household as a domestic servant--or slave.

The sea plays a major role in the lives and livelihoods of the residents and is ever present in the air, weather, stories and metaphors. In Claire’s voice: "Sometimes when she was lying on her back in the sea, her toes pointed, her hands facing down, her ears half-submerged, while she was listening to both the world above and the world beneath the water, she yearned for the warm salty water to be her mother’s body, the waves her mother’s heartbeat, the sunlight the tunnel that guided her out the day her mother died."

There is a strong backwards movement throughout the book, like an undertow. It would be interesting to draw the track of each story woven in; perhaps they would look like waves, surging in and rushing back from the beach as the tide changes. Danticat’s succinct prose captures many of the hard realities of life in Haiti while remaining alive to the beauty that is also present.

*Claire of the Sea Light (English) = Claire Limyè Lanmè (Kreyòl) = Claire Lumière La Mer (French)

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Posted by April on March 20, 2014 at 8:26 a.m.
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