It is a town of 11,000 people but countless souls, a place where dead ancestors and long-gone émigrés feel as present as the populace, and where the spirit world gets the blame, or the credit, when reason fails. Rising above the sea on the Haitian coast, Ville Rose is a place of immense beauty and overwhelming poverty, where want is prosaic and violence a smoldering threat, and where only very few live very comfortably.
Edwidge Danticat’s quiet new novel, “Claire of the Sea Light,” takes its name from a little girl whose father, widowed on the day she was born, tries each year on her birthday to give the child away. An illiterate fisherman who lives in a shack on the beach, Nozias is flailing, desperate for Claire to have a better life and convinced that a fabric vendor named Gaëlle, one of the town’s privileged class, could provide it. “This is what he wanted more than anything for his daughter: a lack of cruelty, a feeling of safety, but also love. Benevolence and sympathy too, but mostly love.” Loving Claire, he thinks, means parting from her.