Chamoiseau, a graduate student, arrives in Texaco, the illegal settlement above Fort-de-France, and is knocked unconscious by a rock. One volatile inhabitant has responded viscerally to the city official come to order the razing of his home. Others notice the coincidence between Chamoiseau's arrival and more positive events. Thus, in hope, and fear of police reprisal, they revive this "Christ," and bring him to Marie-Sophie Laborieux. In "the battle of her life" Texaco's founder begins to persuade the "Bird of Cham" to preserve her story and that of her people, to spare her town.


So begins a long, intricate novel of multiple "oral" and written texts, one that is eminently readable yet subtle in its meldings of narrative voices, times, and perspectives. In its long span from the pre-Columbian era, through the arrival of the Europeans, their importation of first Africans, then others, as slaves, the period of decolonization, and the contemporary postcolonial era, Texaco provides an African-Caribbean counterpoint to the African-American experience. The use of Creole and the representation of oral history heighten the reader's pleasure in learning from a well-drawn, self-reflective, strong-yet-vulnerable personage and narrator, Marie -Sophie Laborieux.

In her story, the primary father-daughter relationship is comprised of paternal life stories that will prepare Marie-Sophie for her own survival, and for her part in the preservation of following generations. All family relationships similarly provide deep narrative roots from which to draw sustenance in physically and spiritually impoverished times.

Each human being, a complex configuration changing over time, has worth; each forms an integral part of the collective tapestry. Men and women interconnect, build lives together, and are separated--by slavery, infidelity, wanderlust, death; all persons lay the foundations for the future even though it is the women, for the most part, who stay, build, and take care of the children. In this novel suffering and survival are twinned themes in the lives of ordinary people faced with the ordinary and extraordinary challenges of illness and health, poverty and exclusion, violence and peace, trauma and joy.


First published: 1992 (Gallimard, Paris). Translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov (from the French and Creole). Chamoiseau won the Prix Goncourt for Texaco. He is an important figure in the Créolité movement.



Place Published

New York



Page Count