(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Texaco is an epic narrative that traces the history of the island of Martinique from the time it was a slaveholding French colony to its present status as a part of France under the sway of powerful cultural and economic outside forces. The historical perspective is provided by an account of Marie-Sophie’s family beginning in the 1820’s, well before the French abolition of slavery in 1848, and of her own life, which covers most of the twentieth century.

The novel is presented as a myth. Like the life of Christ, it begins with “The Annunciation,” or the arrival of the Urban Planner who is sent to “rationalize” and “sanitize” (that is, destroy) the slum, which was called “Texaco” because of its proximity to large oil tanks. It ends with “The Resurrection,” in which Chamoiseau tells of his meeting with Marie-Sophie for the first time, of the story that she and he managed to save from oblivion (just like Texaco was ultimately saved from destruction), and of her death, which supposedly occurred a short time before he wrote his final version of her account.

The bulk of the narrative recounts Marie-Sophie’s origins, telling of her grandparents, of her father’s long life as a slave, freed slave, and witness to the major events of Martinican history, and of her own life. Orphaned at a young age, she was old enough to learn history and the art of storytelling from her dying father, and then she had to survive on her...

(The entire section is 418 words.)