"Chamoiseau is a writer who has the sophistication of the modern novelist, and it is from that position (as an heir of Joyce and Kafka) that he holds out his hand to the oral prehistory of literature."
Of black Martinican provenance, Patrick Chamoiseau gives us Texaco (winner of the Prix Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize), an international literary achievement, tracing one hundred and fifty years of post-slavery Caribbean history: a novel that is as much about self-affirmation engendered by memory as it is about a quest for the adequacy of its own form.
In a narrative composed of short sequences, each recounting episodes or developments of moment, and interspersed with extracts from fictive notebooks and from statements by an urban planner, Marie-Sophie Laborieux, the saucy, aging daughter of a slave affranchised by his master, tells the story of the tormented foundation of her people's identity. The shantytown established by Marie-Sophie is menaced from without by hostile landowners and from within by the volatility of its own provisional state. Hers is a brilliant polyphonic rendering of individual stories informed by rhythmic orality and subversive humor that shape a collective experience.
A joyous affirmation of literature that brings to mind Boccaccio, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Montaigne, Rabelais, and Joyce, Texaco is a work of rare power and ambition, a masterpiece.
, Patrick Chamoiseau is not scared of reimagining history in order to illuminate an essential truth about his homeland, Martinique. Through his narrator, Marie-Sophie Laborieux, a daughter of slaves, he chronicles 150 years in the history of Martinique, starting with the birth of Marie-Sophie's beloved father, Esternome, on a sugar plantation sometime in the early 19th century. It ends with her founding Texaco, a shanty town built on the grounds of an old oil refinery on the outskirts of Fort-de-France. What happens in-between is an astounding flight of imagination and language that rivals the works of Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Chamoiseau begins in the present with the arrival of an urban planner, whom the residents of Texaco mistake for Christ. It then spins back in time to the birth of Esternome and the death of his father, who was suspected of witchcraft by a white plantation owner. In myriad short sequences, the novel follows Esternome's progress as he is first freed by his master, then drawn away from the plantation by the lure of St. Pierre--"City" in the minds of the disenfranchised black population of Martinique. He is eventually washed up on the outskirts of Fort-de-France, which becomes "City" after St. Pierre is destroyed by a volcanic eruption. With the birth of Marie-Sophie, Chamoiseau takes the reader into the present century--through two world wars, riots, famine, political turmoil. The tension always simmers between "City," a metaphor for France, and the countryside where black Martinique's collective consciousness resides.