Posted by: koolwine | October 14, 2011

Trinidad & Tobago: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

George and Sabine move to Trinidad on the eve of the island’s independence from Britain.  The British couple‘s radically different perceptions of their new home threaten to destroy their marriage.

Country Focus: Trinidad and Tobago

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
By Monique Roffey
Originally published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2009.
My edition: Penguin, 2011.
437 pgs.

Acclaim: Orange Prize Finalist

Genre: Fiction
Time period:
2006, 1956, 1963, 1970

To make a long story short: George and Sabine Harwood arrived on Trinidad in 1956.  George had enthusiastically signed a three-year contract with a British shipping company.  Sabine planned to make the best of Trinidad until they could return to England and resume a normal life.

Upon arrival George becomes intoxicated with the  island’s lushness, its women, its rum.  In his later years,  he writes feel-good pieces for the local newspaper even though crime plagues Trinidad and police roam the streets with impunity.

Sabine is less sanguine about Trinidad’s landscape and hurt by the rebuffs she receives from the locals.  She regularly rides her green bicycle through the capital to stave off boredom.  By chance, she dead-ends into a political rally led by the charismatic Eric Williams.  The words of the future Prime Minister shock and intrigue Sabine.   George had not told her that in a few years’ time Britain would give Trinidad its independence and that colonials – like she and George – were unwanted.

Sabine begins to obsessively collect new articles about Williams and writes hundreds of unmailed letters to him in which she spills her heart out about her troubles with George and the troubles brewing on Trinidad.

Three years turn into five decades, two grown children and a once passionate marriage and a promising new country gone sour.  Then George finds Sabine’s letters and vows to win back her love by taking on Trinidad’s corrupt government.

Quote:

Eric Williams spoke with clarity and confidence.  His party, sitting behind him, were mixed in race.  One was even a woman, bookish-looking in her horn-rimmed spectacles, her skin light brown.  What was going on in Trinidad? George, my friends at the Country Club, had never mentioned this Dr. Williams.
People around me started to notice my presence.
“Go away, white girl,”  a man rasped.
“Massa here,” another shouted.
I edged the bike through a thinner part of the crowd, towards the next street, mounting quickly.
I pedaled fast, down to the dock.  Everywhere the streets were deserted.  The whole of town was in Woodford Square, listening to this messiah, his ideas for the future of Trinidad.  Eric Williams’ words rang in my ears.  Repudiate imperialism, colonialism.  I felt like I was new, like I had been shaken.

Monique Roffey

The author’s relationship to Trinidad:Monique Roffey was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad.  She made six trips to Trinidad while writing The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, and was inspired by her mother’s reminiscences about riding around the island on her green Raleigh.  Roffey witnessed firsthand the Soca Warriors qualifying for the FIFA

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Keep Reading!

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Divali Rose by Vashanti Rahaman

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Responses

  1. It’s fun to check into where in the world you are currently reading. ANd then I dream of travel…Thanks for the inspiration.

    Like

    • Trinidad is especially dream-worthy on a chilly, wet, dreary day like today. It’s book season!

      Like


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