This dense, crowded, intricately constructed novel--a fictional history of the Caribbean underclass in the century-and-a- half since the abolition of slavery--won for Martinique's Chamoiseau the prestigious Goncourt Prize in 1993. The many-leveled story moves backward and forward in time, comprising the narrative of radical activist Marie-Sophie Laborieux, as improved and edited by the ``Haitian man of letters'' (one of her several mentors) Ti-Cirique, and presented by its ostensible author Oiseau de Cham--and these are not the only complications. Straightforward history (the rise and collapse of the plantation system, the coming of the oil companies, a formal state visit by de Gaulle in the '60s) is interwoven with fragments of Creole legend and folk wisdom, and, centrally, with the story of Marie-Sophie's itinerant father Esternone (including his many amours), and Marie-Sophie's own subsequent determination to emulate his love of liberty (he was a freed slave), climaxing with her establishment of a shantytown village to house the displaced Creoles of Martinique and with her battles in search of more humane treatment of her people. It's a colorful and exciting patchwork, filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of its exotic locale and peopled by what seems an inexhaustible profusion of vividly eccentric figures, the most arresting including Esternone's beloved Ninon (who's carried away by a water siren), Marie-Sophie's lugubrious employer (and admirer) Monsieur Alcibiade, and the poet- politician AimÇ Cesaire, a real historical figure portrayed here as a complex mixture of socialist firebrand and crafty compromiser. Chamoiseau's high-energy prose brilliantly renders all the relevant permutations and particulars of class conflict and frequently produces such incidental delights as his wonderful description of one of Esternone's epical sexual encounters (``On the so-sweet crest of pleasure, he wished to scream sigh cry breathe die''). We're informed that another Chamoiseau title, Solibo Magnifique, is forthcoming in English translation. Godspeed.