Edwidge Danticat: Claire of the Sea Light

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was twelve. She is the author of two novels, two collections of stories, three books for children and young adults, and three nonfiction titles. In 2009, she received a MacArthur fellowship. Her most recent books are Eight Days and Create Dangerously.

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Edwidge was interviewed by Fabienne S. Josaphat about her upcoming novel, Claire of the Sea Light, to be published August 27.

Fabienne S. Josaphat: What’s your new book about?

Edwidge Danticat: I’m going to borrow from the publisher’s description. It’s about intertwined lives in a small seaside town in Haiti, where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing. The little girl’s name is Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light–and her father is wondering if he should give her away right before she goes missing. As her father and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, are unearthed among a host of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire. It’s a hybrid of a book, stories that are linked together, a kind of tapestry that folks will have to be patient with but that I hope they will enjoy.

FJ: Any models for this book?

ED: Phillipe and Thoby Marcelin are great influences here. I love their work. Jean Toomer’s Cane is a definite influence as is Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and (dare I say it) James Joyce’s Dubliners. I was not aiming for difficulty though. I just started writing and a small little town, modeled after a place called Cite Napoléon in my parents’ birthplace of Léogane, showed up.

FJ: Tell us about this excerpt…

ED: There is a subplot in the book that deals with a very influential radio show hosted by a woman named Louise George. In this excerpt, this father has just heard his son being exposed on the radio show for a crime the son committed but that was kept secret because the father, a school principal, has great influence in the town. The crime was revealed on the air by the victim and the son is coming home where his father and girlfriend are waiting and the father starts to reflect on what might have caused his son to commit the terrible crime he has. This is from a chapter called Di Mwen/Tell Me, which is the name of the radio show.

____________

THE AGE OF ASSASSINS 

Max Senior turned his attention to his son. His son, the lover of stories as a boy. Quick, he wanted to think of a story to tell him, a story of dangerous mistakes made by both father and son.

His son’s friend, Jessamine, was looking at the jeep, at his son, her eyes dancing between them and Max Senior’s face. He was now seeing her in full, carving out of her dark face another impossible grandchild for himself. Even though he was with a school full of children all day long, what did he even know of young people these days?

At the school and in town, he had seen several groups go from pre-kindergarden to close to his son’s age. Not many lived out their early promise. Some of this you could blame, as his ex-wife often did, on the town, its lack of opportunities, its rigid social hierarchies. But his son, with all his opportunities and contacts had done no better. There was something tragic about a generation whose hopes had been raised and dashed over and over again. Had they been poisoned by disappointment? Their leaders and elders–including himself–had made them so many promises that they’d not been able to keep. Idealists had been killed to make room for gangsters. Life had become so cheap that you could give anyone a few dollars to snuff it out. When had they entered, he wondered, what Rimbaud had, in his time, had called “le temps des assassins,” the age of assassins?

He was surprised that Jessamine did not rush into his son’s arms when she saw him. His son, in turn, was looking down the road to the beach then looking back at them. Maybe the radio was on in the car and his son too was listening to the program or he was overhearing snippets from the street. Maybe he had no clue about the program at all. Being a subject of Louise George’s so called “show” was like getting a scarlet letter. One that at times was only temporary. You were hounded by whispers, but only until the following week when it was someone else’s turn.

Max Senior wanted to rush to explain that to his son, to hold and reassure him, but he hoped that Jessamine would do it before him. But Jessamine did not move. Was she shell-shocked? He didn’t know, but he could see in his son’s face that he felt he had no choice but to quickly drive away.

Where would his son go but to the beach? Aside from the lighthouse, it was his son’s favorite place. Weighted down by more important concerns, the people at the beach might not even be listening to the show.

“Shouldn’t we go after him?’ the girl was asking him now. And it seemed the kind of simple question that might be asked by someone who did not fully understand that there was nothing simple about a situation.

“Yes, we could go after him,” he replied. “But I suspect if he wanted to be with us, he would have stayed.”

“Then what are we supposed to do?” she asked. Both of them were staring out at the front gate.

“We wait,” Max Senior said, which was the usual course when it came to his son. He was always waiting for him; waiting for him to come to his senses, waiting for him to understand his duties, waiting for him to take up his responsibilities, waiting for him to return home.

Trackbacks

  1. […] an exclusive preview of Edwidge Danticat‘s latest book,  Claire of the Sea Light. In the excerpt from the novel, a father “has […]

  2. […] Related Posts: Review: Claire of the Sea Light; Edwidge Danticat | My Good Bookshelf Claire of the Sea Light | Shelf Love Edwidge Danticat: Claire of the Sea Light | Sliver of Stone Magazine […]

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