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Texaco Hardcover – February 11, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 401 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books / Random House, Inc.; 1st edition (February 11, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679432353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679432357
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,625,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of this book...I had just recently finished reading another book with a more linear storyline, but I kept at it and was rewarded with a wonderful, highly nuanced, passionate, and an ultimately funny story told by Marie-Sophie, Texaco's protector. Texaco, the place, is the heartbeat of the Creole nation of Martinique. Texaco, the book is peppered with ideas that are more eloquently described by Creole words or phrases. Chamoiseau is a brilliant writer who for me recalls Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco. I highly enjoy his work.
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Format: Paperback
From beginning to end, Chamoiseau provides a delightful yet difficult read. This challenging text is not for the faint of heart for it pushes the reader to read contrapuntally, against the grain; in fact, one is not so much reading as listening. A brilliant translation of the French captures this challenge. The prose is startingly original, and the turns of phrase will spark devotion.
The reader is asked to trace the history of Sophie Laborieux as she labors to carve a space for herself in a History that will not hear her. Texaco represent the dangers in all post-imperial nations not only external, as the title suggests, but also internal, the loss of imagination, creativity, heterodoxy. What emerges, in short, is a personal yet univeral narrative, one that bridges the gap between story telling and history making.
This text aligns itself with other notable works by Amin Maalouf, Salman Rushdie, and Ben Okri.
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Format: Paperback
Chamioseau has written a beautifully compelling novel that traces the sources of conflict and conciliation among the peoples of Martinique through the experiences over two centuries of a father and daughter. Told largely through the eyes of Marie-Sophie, the daughter, the book traces the emergence of Martinican society through her experiences and those of her father, Esternome, within, without, above, below, beyond and through all elements of the island culture. Marie-Sophie and Esternome live and brush against the lives of each of the contributing elements of modern Martinican society -- plantation slaves, maroon escapees, free blacks, Creoles, poor white underclass, and white "beke" aristocracy. Each tile of this mosaic is lovingly painted, whether it displays steadfast endurance, sexual bliss, or stubborn cruelty. Each section can be surprising as displayed under a different light. Viewed as a whole, the glory of the complete work surpasses, but can not be distingushed from, the sum of its parts. Chamoiseau thus demonstrates that the Martinican civilization is itself the harmonious sum of seemingly dissonant parts. Collective history is made up of individual stories -- some profound, some profane. The stories -- the lives -- of the strugglers, the stragglers can not be ignored. Their lives are the history, the essence, the being of the island. They must not be bulldozed into oblivion. Texaco must survive.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Translating is a difficult thing, and I imagine it's more difficult when you're dealing with Creole and French and language itself is the theme, and no translation is ever finished... but that said... the translators make some really odd choices that make reading this book difficult. They tend to maintain what I assume to be the original Latin phrasing and cognates. I don't speak French, but I'm fluent in Spanish and translate from that language, and in this book I've run across many awkward latin-like phrasings that make me wince. Just two examples:

"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.
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By A Customer on October 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
At first, I couldn't get through the first two pages. So I began in the middle and after a chapter, went back to page one. My copy is now tattered; I've re-read it so many times. This book is brilliant. Esternome, Marie Sophie and the rest of them leave this world doing what so many of us fail to. They taste and hear life in all its dimensions. Three cheers for Oiseau de Cham. He really breaks it down.
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