“Claire of the Sea Light”: What Parents Do For Children

As Mother’s Day nears, many treat the holiday as an opportunity to reflect on parenthood.

Wilmette Library’s “One Book, Everybody Reads” selection, “Claire of the Sea Light,” examines the role from all angles.

In an email interview with author Edwidge Danticat, Make It Better covers some of the themes addressed in her book.

Make It Better: While mothers and motherhood play a large role in “Claire of the Sea Light,” there also is emphasis on the role fathers play. Do you think there is a difference in how fathers and mothers approach protecting their children?

Edwidge Danticat: I think there is a difference in the way individuals, be they male or female, approach protecting their children. This probably has a lot to do with the level of protecting their children need, and many other factors as well. We generally tend to assume that all mothers are “motherly,” but it is not always the case. Parents in general might be more protective of their children when the children are in danger, the way Claire might be in the story. I have written a lot about mother-daughter relationships before. This time I wanted to write about fathers and their children. When I started writing this book in 2005, my father had just died. Maybe the emphasis on fathers and their children had a lot to do with that.

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Characters in this book did less-than-admirable things occasionally, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of revenge, sometimes to define themselves. Are you a believer in the ends justifying the means?

No, not necessarily. But a writer’s beliefs and a character’s actions aren’t always related. When you are writing a novel, or even a short story, you are dealing with the lives of dozens of people. If you succeed in making them real, they will have all kinds of conflicting emotions, and will do all kinds of things that you would never condone or imagine doing yourself. You still have to be able to slip into their skin, inhabit them, so you can get them right. Interesting characters are not always admirable people.

Water plays an integral role in this novel, as do earth and the animals. How strong a role does nature play in your life?

I wish I were more connected to nature. I live in a city, though it is Miami and there’s access to the great outdoors year-round. But I kind of like being inside. I spend a lot of time indoors, either reading or writing. I find that even when I travel, unless someone is dragging me along, this is what I want to do, sit somewhere and read. Kids get you out though because you have to water them and get them some sunshine.

If you had to choose a character from “Claire of the Sea Light” that most closely aligns with your sense of self, which would it be? Why?

It would probably be Claire. She has an interior life that is similar to mine when I was a kid. I often wanted to run off and live in a world of my own when I was a little girl. I had a really vivid imagination, but was often filled with sadness. And the way I would relieve that sadness was by trying to escape somewhere deep inside my head, a place that I still go to when I am in pain. So I guess a couple of decades from now, Claire might grow up and become an indoor-loving writer.

Can you give any details on your next writing project?

For my next two projects, I am regressing in full childhood/adolescent mode. I have a picture book called “Bedtime for Saya” in the works. It will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers. I also just finished a young adult book called “Dosa,” which will be published by Scholastic. Both should be out there in the next year or two.

You can listen to Danticat live when she visits Wilmette Sunday, May 4, as part of the 2014 One Book, Everybody Reads program. The 2 p.m. author talk will be held at Wilmette Junior High School, 620 Locust Rd., Wilmette. 

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