The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Book - 2009
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When George and Sabine Harwood arrive in Trinidad from England George instantly takes to their new life, but Sabine feels isolated, heat-fatigued, and ill at ease with the racial segregation and the imminent dawning of a new era. Her only solace is her growing fixation with Eric Williams, the charismatic leader of Trinidad's new national party, to whom she pours out all her hopes and fears for the future in letters that she never brings herself to send. As the years progress, George and Sabine's marriage endures for better or worse. When George discovers Sabine's cache of letters, he realises just how many secrets she's kept from him - and he from her - over the decades. And he is seized by an urgent, desperate need to prove his love for her, with tragic consequences...
Publisher: London ; New York : Simon & Schuster, 2009
Description: 439 p. ; 24 cm
ISBN: 9781847375001
Branch Call Number: Roff


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Oct 12, 2018

I liked the book until George died. It seemed like an editor was worried the book wouldn't sell and told the author to lead with Talbot's brutal beating before moving on to what happened after the Harwoods missed their boat back to England. After George's death, we learn about the couple's early years in Trinidad. Weird.

It would have made sense if the second half of the book had been written as the reminiscences of a grieving widow. But, it wasn't. Talbot's story is never resolved. We don't learn why the attorney's wife decamped to Europe. The transition of power in Trinidad is murky. The letters Sabine wrote to the prime minister don't match with George's angst when he read them.

The book got off to a great start and slowly fizzled. The last 100 pages were tedious. Spoiler alert: they miss the boat back to England by 10 minutes. But, we knew that already.

My recommendation would be to start reading the book at page 189 with the Harwood's arrival in Trinidad in 1956. Read the 2006 section last.

Aug 06, 2013

I loved it! Learned a lot about Trinidad and its political history. Its social history is also interesting from the perspective of Sabine who is both an outsider and an insider. Sabine's relationship with George was very honest - I think we can all see bits of ourselves in that mix. She is a very strong, complex character. I've lived on tropical islands so I connected with the description of Trinidad as a seductive woman... an island can really lull you into submission and also repel you at the same time.

I can see where not everyone would be as charmed with it as I was, but nevertheless, it was perfect for me. I'm sad the story is over.

Aug 01, 2012

A white couple move to Trinidad in the 1950s. He loves the land; she wants to leave. Changes in the country from a colony to thwarted black power. Good.

Jun 17, 2012

I might not have liked this as much if it weren't for the great reader. I did like the fact that the woman becomes more likeable as she gets older.

melwyk Feb 13, 2012

The basic story is this: Sabine is married to George. He gets a job in Trinidad, where they move from England during the height of colonial advantages. She doesn't like it much. But they stay on, through years of unrest and the uprising of a Trinidadian government, despite Sabine's protestations that she just wants to go home. They never return to England, in fact. Other elements: Sabine & George have a passionate though uneven marriage. They have years that they were madly in love and years when they despised each other. George has a wandering eye. Sabine develops a strange relationship with Trinidadian prime minister Eric Williams, writing him piles of unsent letters. They have a long term Trinidadian maid/nanny who is part of the family.

Out of this stew of ingredients, Roffey concocts a tasty story. A little spicy, with sex and the changing mores of England vs. Trinidad and one generation to the next compared. A little bitter, with Sabine's unhappiness flavouring the entire story. A little salty, with strong language and violence breaking through fairly often. A little fragrant, with some moments of great beauty revealed. But overall, I found it didn't fill me up.

While I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book and learned a lot from it, I also wondered if I was getting a clear picture of Trinidad from a narrator who went there not by choice and repeatedly states how much she hates it. Nonetheless, it was an unusual read with an unfamiliar setting, and it was absorbing.

Jun 23, 2011

Terrific atmospheric descriptions of Trinidad - you can literally feel the humidity and see the colours...and the history lessons are interesting as well. An author has to be gutsy to write a novel where the main characters are so unlikeable. After a while the whining just got to me..shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize.

Cdnbookworm Jun 16, 2011

This is a wonderful book that follows the lives of a British man, George, and his wife, Sabine. They came to Trinidad in 1956, where he would work, as many did, in a shipping company as a clerk, on a three-year contract.
The book begins in 2006, when Sabine has resigned herself to living in Trinidad for the rest of her life. Her daughter, Pascale, has married locally, and her son Sebastian works in England. George does freelance writing for the local paper. When George discovers one of her long kept secrets, he is driven to take new risks in his life, in an effort to revive their relationship. This section occupies the major part of the book. We see events from both George and Sabine's viewpoint.
In the next section, the book moves back to 1956 when the couple arrived in Trinidad. From her on, we see things from Sabine's view only. She has brought with her a green bicycle and she bicycles all over Port of Spain and the surrounding area on it. She is a legend, but she doesn't realize it right away. Also in 1956, the young Eric Williams is beginning to speak out for home rule. Sabine's wanderings take her to one of his speeches and she is fascinated. We see how she fought to be her own person and fought against the seduction of the island that had already captured George.
The book follows through other major events in 1963, culminating in the riots of 1970 when the family almost left. Throughout, Sabine rages against the island and studies it, and finds that she has become part of it, whether she likes it or not. This is a story of modern-day colonialism and the struggle of a developing country to find its own voice. Sabine belongs here and yet she will never belong. This is both her home and her prison. And, as the white woman on the green bicycle, she makes one final stand for what she believes is right.
A fascinating book that tells a unique story.

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