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Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau
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Texaco

by Patrick Chamoiseau

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (7)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This sweeping saga traces one hundred and fifty years of Martinique history. Mostly told from the point of view of Marie-Sophie Laborieux, the daughter of a former slave, texaco is the story of a shantytown of the same name besieged from every angle. From within, the society is wrathful and distrusting. From without everyone is a stranger. The language is mystical but I found my mind wandering as a result.
As I mentioned earlier, I tried reading this once before and failed. No different this time around. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Oct 17, 2016 |
I couldn't get through this. It's written in a very distant tense- to evoke an oral storytelling tradition, I think. I felt like I was reading through the wrong end of a telescope, if that makes any sense, and I never wanted to pick it up to read it so I gave up after 150 pages or so. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
Written history gives us ages, demarcation points, like the Romanov Empire or the Industrial Revolution, capitalized to enforce just how important such people and developments are. But what of all the people and events whose history never sees the light of day, is lost along with the people whose oral record it was?

Marie-Sophie Labourieux believed in stories, believed in places, believed in her people. Constantly changing, constantly evolving, their origins were in danger of being lost to memory. A people who had descended from African slaves and French colonists, and from all those who came later to their island, a people who had fled the plantations and the masters only to be swallowed by the sugar refineries and City, had little chance of an official history. Even had such a thing existed, it could never capture the sounds, the smells, the tastes and colours of her world. Marie-Sophie set out to do this.

Thirty-five years earlier, Marie-Sophie had left City (Fort de France) and gone around the harbour to the land of the Texaco company. Here she set up her solitary hut, living alone until gradually a whole community of squatters grew up around her. Such places are never left in peace though. The oil people left, City noticed the wonderful vistas and needed more space. A connecting highway, the Pénétrante, was built. Now urban renewal threatened to destroy her community, the "insalubrious" Texaco.

By now, Marie-Sophie was regarded as a matadora, a woman of knowledge, worthy of respect. She was selected to entertain the first urban planner to assay her Texaco over glasses of rum in her hut. In her words
The angel of destruction had come that morning to familiarize himself with the setting for his future exploits.

-- But what's the use of visiting something you're going to raze?

He hadn't known what to answer and had concentrated on emptying his glass. So I took a real deep breath: I suddenly understood that it was I, around this table with this poor old rum, with my word for my only weapon, who had to wage --- at my age --- the decisive battle for Texaco's survival.

-- Little fellow, permit me to tell you Texaco's story...

Slowly she wove for him the stories of her island and her people. More slowly, she filled notebook after notebook with them. From City, the place where she was born, there was Adélina, or was it Sophélise, one of two sisters who left this world so late that no one knew who she might be; their mother Théresa-Marie-Rose, who carried baskets of oranges and volumes of Montaigne across to the guards at the asylum where her husband, the man who had introduced Marie-Sophie to literature, but went mad and ate his library when war was declared, was incarcerated. From this family she had the books that followed her always. Some Montaigne of course, whom I feel I can still hear murmuring in his freezing castle; Alice, Lewis Carroll's, wandering from wonder to wonder as in a true Creole tale; Monsieur de La Fontaine's fables, where writing looks easy; and, of course, some Rabelais... I like to read my Rabelais, I don't understand much, but his bizarre language reminds me of my dear Esternome's strange sentences stuck between his desire to speak good French and his hill Creole -- a singular quality that I was never able to capture in my notebooks.
From Texaco there was Nelta, the man she loved, whose goal was partir as soon as he had enough money, a goal they both tacitly acknowledged; partir, a French word to take him to France. There was Iréné the shark catcher with whom she would live out her days; Marie-Clémence, whose tongue was "televised news", "dispensing just enough bitterness to make life passionate"; Julot the Mangy, the Boss, afraid only of his dead mother's return to earth; the raids by police trying to flatten the community and the raids by foreign sailors trying to flatten the women.

Marie-Sophie told it all with the immediacy and yet also the mythic quality only an oral culture can convey. Marie-Sophie herself recognized the loss that the writing of history imposes on its material, a loss framed by the very language that seeks to preserve. The feeling of death became even more present when I began to write about myself, and about Texaco. It was like petrifying the tatters of my flesh. I was emptying my memory into immobile notebooks without having brought back the quivering of the living life which at each moment modifies what's just happened. Texaco was dying in my notebooks though it wasn't finished. And I myself was dying there though I felt the person I was now... still elaborating. ...

Is there such a thing as writing informed by the word, and by the silences, and which remains a living thing, moving in a circle and wandering all the time, ceaselessly irrigating with life the things written before, and which reinvents the circle each time like a spiral which at any moment is in the future, ahead, each loop modifying the other, nonstop, without losing a unity difficult to put into words?

If there is, Marie-Sophie and Patrick Chamoiseau have captured it.
4 vote SassyLassy | Mar 31, 2016 |
Texaco is essentially an oral history of Martinique from the 1820s to the 1980s, told from the point of view of Marie Sophie Labourieux, the founder of an illegal shanty-town built on the fringes of an oil depot in Fort-de-France. With only a little bit of necessary time-compression, Chamoiseau manages to fit this whole span (containing inter alia the end of slavery and collapse of the plantation system, the 1902 volcano disaster, two world wars, and the transition from colony to overseas Département) into the combined memories of Marie Sophie and her father Esternome, who was born a plantation slave and later became a joiner and smallholder before moving to Fort-de-France in the aftermath of the eruption that destroyed St Pierre. Marie Sophie works for most of her life as a domestic servant, but falls into the role of a community leader in her old age when she finds herself fighting the city and the oil company for the right to squat on the waste land below the tank-farm.

We are supposed to imagine Marie Sophie telling her story to the Urbaniste - a town-planner who has come to see Texaco for himself before advising the city to clear it or incorporate and improve it - but the author comes back in an afterword to explain to us that it's actually based on a series of interviews he, in his self-defined capacity of Marqueur de paroles (i.e. collector of folklore), had with the woman who was the original for Marie Sophie. In addition, the text is punctuated by excerpts from notebooks in which Marei Sophie recorded her own thoughts or the memories of her father, and with letters from the Urbaniste to the Marqueur de paroles.

The text itself is a complicated mixture of formal literary French, street language and Creole, always exciting, always poetic, and constantly undermining our expectations and prejudices. It's divided into sections in the way academic historians like to do "periodisation", but the periods are far from conventional: Temps de pail, Temps de bois-caisse, Temps de fibrociment, Temps béton (straw age, packing-case-wood age, asbestos age, concrete age). Creole words are introduced deliberately and systematically, and always turn out to have far more levels of meaning than the equivalent term in standard French.

Two terms in particular, turn out to be key concepts that keep on expanding in meaning and complexity as we go on through the book: l'En-ville, which is not just the city but the whole idea of urbanisation and everything associated with it; and the competing anarchistic Noutéka, ("us-ness"), an evocation of the powerful mutuality of small communities. Creole is rooted in African spirituality and in the disruptions of slavery, but we're never allowed to forget that Creole has a huge stake in the French language as well. Marie Sophie turns out to be a fan of Montaigne and Rabelais, and just when we're least expecting it, she will hit us with a couple of alexandrines buried in the middle of a passage of prose (...du matin de chaque jour aux beaux néons du soir). Or we suddenly get a couple of pages of vers-libre that looks suspiciously like a parody of Césaire's Cahier d'un retour. And there are some really awful jokes - as when de Gaulle visits the island and no-one is quite sure afterwards whether his speech was celebrating the Frenchness of the Martiniqueans ("Mon dieu, mon dieu, comme vous êtes français!") or exclaiming at their colour ("Mon dieu, mon dieu, comme vous êtes foncés!").

This novel won Chamoiseau the most prestigious French literary award, the Prix Goncourt, in 1992 - he was only the second Caribbean writer to win (the first being his fellow-Martiniquean, René Maran, in 1921). It's not hard to see why: it uses both language and history in original and exciting ways to show us where creole culture comes from, what it can do, and why it matters that little bits of anarchic individuality like Texaco should be able to exist in the world. ( )
3 vote thorold | Jan 17, 2016 |
This is probably a great book. I'm just biased against jokey, jovial narrators of horrific historical situations. It's my problem, not the book's.
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chamoiseau, Patrickprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Altena, Ernst vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nationaal Centrum voor Ontwikkelingssamenwe… BelgiëUitgeversecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
NOVIB, Nederlandse Organisatie voor Internationale Ontwikkelingssamenwe…Uitgeversecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Réjouis, Rose-MyriamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vinokurov, ValTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
What will the scribe recall, who through herself already tells of the stern destiny of all these women forever condemned to pregnancies, who, in order to foresee the day's weather and figure out what labors to take on, are expert at deciphering the prophecies of the wind, of dusk, or of the misty halo which sometimes seems to ooze out of the moon; these women who, while fighting -- as much as men -- to survive, made what is known as a fatherland, and whome calendars reduce to a few noisy holidays, to a vainglory after which streets are named?
--Hector Bianciotti
The city was the sanctuary of the word, of the gester and the geste, of struggle.

You, game ... are nothing but a city-blackman: that's where you have to speak from! ...
--Édouard Glissant
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Upon his entrance into Texaco, the Christ was hit by a stone -- an aggression that surprised no one.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679751750, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:21 -0400)

Winner of the Prix Concourt

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