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Texaco: A Novel Paperback – February 24, 1998
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In Texaco, 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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A teeming jungle of a book, this novel brilliantly mixes historical events, Creole fables, snatches of poetry and satiric arias?as well as the French and Creole languages?into a polyphonous Caribbean epic. Chamoiseau (Creole Folktales) traces the migrations of black slaves and mulattos throughout Martinique's history. The novel takes its title from the oil company, whose local refinery eventually becomes synonymous with the nearby shantytown where a community of dispossessed Creoles have settled. Their search for home?and for their own identity?begins in the 19th century, with a freed slave named Esternome Laborieux ("the hardworking"), and continues with his daughter, Marie-Sophie, the founder of the shantytown. The narrative sprawls across time: the abolition of slavery in 1848 and the decay of the plantation system; the WWII Vichy regime; de Gaulle's 1964 visit; the postcolonial era. Alongside these historical touchstones tag the ordinary stories of travel, love and death in a boisterous "Vide" (Mardi Gras parade) of vivid characters. Chamoiseau's ornate prose is maximalist and then some. Esternome discovers, with the help of a Creole shaman, that his destiny is "to unravel [the whites'] History into our thousand stories." Structurally and spiritually, the novel has much in common with Eduardo Galeano's Memory of Fire trilogy, as Chamoiseau pastes together bits of fact and fiction with the glue of fabulism. In the end, his mythic Texaco?a realm that straddles the city and countryside, bondage and freedom?is firmly located in both history and the imagination. (Feb.) FYI: Texaco won the 1992 Prix Goncourt, France's highest literary prize.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Prior to Madame Laborieux deciding to build on Texaco’s property, like other poor Martinicians, she inhabited a hutch on the steep slopes, known as the morne, with dirt floors. As a young woman, she lived and worked for families, as a nanny or housekeeper in the city of Fort-de-France.
Middle aged, childless, and alone, Madame Laborieux no longer wanted to live on the hills feeling the heat from the fiery sun. She found land near the sea with a gentle slope, temperate winds, and the scent of herbs. This was Texaco; she thought it magical.
The watchman was not enchanted with her appearance on Texaco’s grounds, nor was the owner. Madame Laborieux faced numerous expulsions from the property, but continuously returned. More families arrived and dotted the region. Like Madame Laborieux, they erected crude dwellings on stilts, made of tin, crate wood and asbestos, planted vegetables and fruit trees. Eventually the homes, although still crude, were built with bricks and cement.
In 1980, the Urban Planner, known as the “Christ,” arrived to Texaco. Without electricity and plumbing, the city judged the property unhealthy and had decided to raze the area.
In her own words, Madame Laborieux, provides the Urban Planner her inspiring family history, beginning with her father, Esternome Laborieux, a carpenter by trade, born a slave and freed years prior to Martinique’s abolishment of slavery in 1848. Convincingly, she changed the minds of those in authority, obtaining proper housing and utilities.
The author, Martinician, Patrick Chamoiseau, taped the late Madame Laborieux to write this book. Texaco, first written in French, won the 1992 French Prix Goncourt for Texaco.
Chamoiseau captured Madame Laborieux’s history replete with her father’s voice; a fascinating man. She revealed the quality of transparency and purity in her father and mother, Idoménée. And in Madame Laborieux’s own story, you felt the sensitivity, suffering, sadness, passion, loss, lovers, longing, humor, and courage. Madame Laborieux was an indomitable spirit, a woman of profound substance. No doubt, she left an indelible impression on Martinicians.
I thought the run-on sentences, although at times poetic and beautifully written were sometimes annoying. This might have been due to Madame Laborieux speaking on tape, in Creole and French. I felt emotionally spent after reading the account of Madame Laborieux’s history. I gave this book four stars.
"It's complicated but here's the real thread: the best bearing was a skin without slavery's color." (71)
First of all, a more natural way to say this would be "the real thread is this" but second and most importantly, what does "here's the real thread" mean? That's a metaphor that just doesn't exist in English, as far as I know. And what does "the best bearing" mean? I can sort of guess from context, but no one would write a sentence like that in English. Similarly, somewhere I saw a reference to someone's head as a "pumpkin." Maybe that makes sense in French/Creole (it definitely makes sense in Spanish) but in English, if you want to compare someone's head to a vegetable, it's a gourd, or a melon.
"Sunday afternoon became a rite for him." (81)
I imagine the French here is similar to the Spanish, rito... quick dictionary check says maybe "rites"? But you don't really say "rite" in English unless you're being very specific/archaic. You say ritual. Like, a Sunday-afternoon ritual. I don't want to be nit-picky, but the text is full of little things like this, and they bug me. It's up to every individual translator to what degree he or she wishes to maintain the tone of the source language, its unique metaphors, images, etc. They may have good reasons for the choices they made. It's an art, not a science. But to my taste, this translation lacks grace, and the text ends up feeling choppy and Latin.