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Texaco: A Novel Paperback – February 24, 1998
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The novel returns obsessively to the power, beauty, frustrations and extreme political importance of language -- specifically the French language, and its relation not only to racial identity but to what the translators refer to as ''Mulatto French'' and ''Creole French.'' Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov's translation into English of such a complex original is brilliant in its musical integrity and imagistic precision. It is also faithful to the novel's exuberant, unrestrained excess.
'TEXACO' IS A WORK OF ART, TRANSLATION A PERFECT COPY: Mr. Chamoiseau wrote Texaco in a freestyle mishmash of French and Martinican Creole dialects. The translation by Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov is a virtual work of art in its own right, dead-on in its colloquial re-creation of the novel's storyteller orality.
Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov merit high praise for taking Chamoiseau's French and Creole braids of gritty reality and sublime fancy, and weaving them afresh in a truly delectable, island-flavored English (with a helpful glossary included.)
Translators Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov handle the demanding text by fashioning a vivid, muscular lyricism that deftly articulates the ongoing contrast between the exalted and the everyday. The resulting poetry is constant...
The language itself, even in translation, is extraordinarily various, vivid, and exact. In recovering the "imaginings" of the newly freed slave, it can be epigrammatic ("roads uncover solitude and suggest other lives"), or lyrically ecstatic ("he felt himself glisten like sea under moon").
From the Inside Flap
seau 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
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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.