by Patrick Chamoiseau

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In this compelling novel, Chamoiseau combines realism and fantasy as he explores the history and identity of Creoles. Chamoiseau, who has lived in Martinique his whole life, presents “Creoleness” as a separate entity from Western or French roots. The novel describes life in the small town of Texaco, outside of Martinique. For those from the Caribbean, Texaco helps to navigate the complexities of intercultural interactions and authenticity of native experiences.

The main character of the story is Marie-Sophie Laborieux, who is a daughter of a freed slave. She is proud of her heritage and fights the City changes. She also balances a life of Creole heritage with European history. She narrates the personal history of her family from the early 1800s through the late 1900s. Through her accounts, Chamoiseau explores the basis of identity as he traces and emphasizes lineage.

Marie-Sophie Laborieux's grandfather describes the importance of their ancestors,

They were the people who knew things that one must not know. And they really did do things that cannot be done. They remembered forgotten wonders: the Country Before, the Great Country, the speech of the great country, the gods of the great country . . . without differentiating them, and this subjected them to other demands.

Marie-Sophie’s grandfather was a slave and taught his granddaughter how to cherish and value both nature in general and the land specifically.

He revealed to her in particular his pleasure in the memory of an impossible land which he murmured Africa. While he communicated to her his hatred of the sea, he also taught her his holy wonder at the slightest tremor which runs through nature.

She discusses the personal history of her father, Esternome, through much of the novel. Both her grandfather and father, both slaves, emphasize how much slaves gained and how unified they became by working the land together. Despite their chains, no one could take away their understanding of how the earth sustained them.

Having to choose between the uplands of exile, where the Békés lived, and the Mulattos’ enthusiasm for changing their destiny, the earth-niggers had chosen the earth. The earth to exist. The earth to feed themselves. The earth to understand, and earth to live on.

Chamoiseau describes the migration of freed slaves after the abolition of slavery, as natives now had a choice of where to live and commune. As they have newfound freedom, they establish new communities.

Occupying the indented uplands, the summits of the peaks. It was building the country (not the Mulatto country, not the Beke country, not the Coolie country, not the Kongo country: the country of the earth-niggers). Building the country in Neighbourhoods, Neighbourhood by Neighbourhood, overlooking the little towns and the lights of the En-Ville . . . To say Neighbourhood is to say: Negroes emerging from liberty and entering life in such and such a piece of land . . .

The main thing was to survive without having to go back down. We grew what the Békés call secondary plants, and we call eating-plants. At the edge of the eating-plants, you must have medicine-plants, and the ones that attract good luck and disarm the zombis. The lot all mixed together never exhausts the soil. That’s Creole-garden.

Chamoiseau also critiques the city planner, Christ (who represents Christian France), and his steps to modernize.

But the city is a danger; it becomes a megapolis, it never stops; it petrifies the countryside with silence, just as in former times the Empires stifled everything around them; the city rises on the ruins of the nation-state, monstrously plurinational, transnational, supranational, cosmopolitan—crazily Creole, in a...

(This entire section contains 785 words.)

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way, and becomes the only dehumanized structure of the human species.

The author describes a small Creole town called En-Ville, which represents change and a mobile identity of "Creoleness." It was a city "founded on those scarce goods which improved one’s existence," where people can "harvest its windfalls." "It’s a place where you can take your chance."

It is also described as a kind of melting-pot, where people can experience a myriad of odds and ends, as well as different destinies.

Chamoiseau explains how intermarriage and interbreeding have increased the cosmopolitan aspect of the Creole identity.

The Creole town restores to the town planner, who would like to forget this, an understanding of the roots of a new identity: multilingual, multiracial, multi-historical, open, sensitive to the diversity of the world. Everything has changed.

The novel captures the ever-changing, complex nature of Creoles and how Creoles can not be relegated to a specific stereotype or description. It is rich picture of a beautiful people. In summary, Chamoiseau truly highlights the solidarity and unity of a unique culture, despite the years of influx, mobility, change, and intersectionality.