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.
Reviewed on: 02/02/1997 Release date: 02/01/1997 Genre: Fiction