Originally published to international acclaim and the basis for the beloved film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Joseph Olshan’s prize-winning novel charts the profound, rare friendship between a wise Jamaican woman named Clara Mayfield and David, a twelve-year-old boy adrift in the wake of his parents’ broken marriage. As the two grow closer,
Originally published to international acclaim and the basis for the beloved film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Joseph Olshan’s prize-winning novel charts the profound, rare friendship between a wise Jamaican woman named Clara Mayfield and David, a twelve-year-old boy adrift in the wake of his parents’ broken marriage. As the two grow closer, she brings him into her special world of patois and Jamaican beauty parlors and shadowy alliances, and he comes to realize that in her native country Clara has left behind a mystery, which he grows determined to unveil.
“An impressive novel… Clara’s Heart is notable precisely because of the risks Joseph Olshan has taken that do succeed, not the least of which is its sensitive and often comical treatment of the unique love between a precocious American boy and a wise if tormented Jamaican woman.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Olshan’s achievement is to have created a separate and entirely believable world, carefully, comically and humanely drawn. It is held together by much tension and contains many excellent and recognizable scenes and embarrassments… A fine debut.”—The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“In language that is devastatingly accurate in tone and intensity, Joseph Olshan has painted a complex portrait on an unusual couple meeting under unusual circumstances and very often clashing, as their cultures clash, but emerging triumphant in an ending that will satisfy even the most hard-boiled reader. Olshan is a remarkably gifted writer whose novel will be lovingly remembered.”—San Diego Tribune
“Terrific. Joseph Olshan is clearly enormously talented. He has an almost extra-sensory understanding of the characters he writes about, and he writes magnificently well. He is funny, too.”—The Daily Telegraph
The great Joseph Conrad once spoke of how the very difference in race can produce a mysterious element of sympathy between two people. How might this concept be applied to this novel?
There is a certain kind of love in this novel, a love that grows between a housekeeper and the boy in her charge, a love that is governed by the fact that Clara is hired help and one day her job must come to an end. How does this eventual ending affect the course of their relationship?
The novel takes places during the 70’s when divorce was less common and therefore more of an event that set divorcing parents and their children apart from families who managed to stay together. But now that more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, and divorce itself is more integral to the society at large, how has the landscape changed for the children affected by it?
This book has had many translations, and in most of them the Jamaican patois, which David learns (much to Clara’s delight) could find no equivalent in a foreign language. How might this affect the overall impact of the novel on someone reading the book in translation?
The novel describes the loneliness and alienation that can be inherent to suburban life. Has this changed over time, or are the suburbs still as alienating?
Clara has many dreams that “signify,” dreams whose meaning needs to be decoded by a friend of hers who still lives in Jamaica. Is her preoccupations with these dreams a hindrance to her personal evolution? Is this superstitious nature a character flaw?
Clara’s life Brooklyn, where David sometimes visits her, is a world unto itself. What about it is so alluring to him and why does he feel he can seek comfort in it?
This novel paints a portrait of parents who are overly self-involved to the detriment of their son but who are allowed the luxury of self-involvement by the fact that they can afford full-time help that takes on a large responsibility of child-raising. What kind of affect might this have on children and on their future relationship with these absentee parents?
Much has been made of the secret that Clara Mayfield carries with her. Some readers felt that when the secret is finally revealed that it’s almost too disturbing? What is your feeling about this?
A very popular film version of this novel was made and still plays on television. If you have seen the film, do you think it worthy of the novel, or visa versa?