In the decade since Edwidge Danticat published her last novel, “The Dew Breaker,” Haiti has been drowned by hurricanes and shaken by earthquakes. At each cataclysmic crisis, the plight of her homeland dominated the world’s attention and then quickly faded into the background radiation of suffering that passes through most of us unnoticed.
For someone born in Port-au-Prince, the temptation to rage at the public’s fickle concern must be immense. But in her rich new novel, “Claire of the Sea Light,” Danticat continues, as she always has, to speak in a captivating whisper. While disasters threaten to reduce the Haitian people to an undifferentiated mass of misery, her work pushes back, clearing space for individuals, restoring the variegated colors of humanity that storms and death and our own compassion fatigue would wash away.
Two of the chapters in this trim novel were previously published in the New Yorker, and along with the other six they resemble the exquisite short stories that earned Danticat the Story Prize in 2004. But even though these chapters often reach in different directions and sometimes concern different groups of characters, “Claire of the Sea Light” remains a novel, a carefully integrated collection of episodes that build on one another, enriching our understanding of a small Haitian town and the complicated community of poor and wealthy, young and old, who call it home.