, 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.
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.