Of poverty and sacrifice in Haiti

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Young Haitian boys watch from the beach on January 21, 2010 in Leogane, Haiti.

Interview by Kai Ryssdal

Even before the earthquake back in 2010, Haiti was no easy place. Hardships and poverty, instability and violence are a long part of its history. Throw in some wrenching family reality, and that’s a good part of the plot of Edwidge Danticat‘s new novel, “Claire of the Sea Light.”

The book centers on the story of a young Haitian girl named Claire whose father is considering giving her away in the hopes of getting her a better life. On the day he finally makes the heart-wrenching decision, Claire disappears. As the novel unfolds, we learn more and more about the people in her town, and what they do to make it by day-to-day.

In some ways, poverty and aspiration themselves are a character in the book.

“This idea of wanting better, wanting better for oneself, for one’s child, in an environment where the actual environment, the political environment, the financial opportunities are villains” is an important part of the book, says Danticat. “Dreaming, aspiring, working hard — are all parts of the fabric of this book.”

Claire’s father, in the novel, must make the difficult decision to give her away.

“The father, thinking about market, thinking about money, writes a letter to Claire saying’ I’m not selling you’ because he realizes there are situations in which people do sell their children,” says Danticat.

That the book mentions the possibility of slavery is no coincidence, says Danicat, who is quick to point out that “our society in Haiti that were initially formed out of a very terrible transaction, the horrible slave trade is so deep a part of our history. Whenever elements of it emerge in our day to day transactions, it is very painful and uncomfortable, even in the present.”


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