The White Woman on the Green Bicycle: A Novel by Monique Roffey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Around the World: 21 of 52 (Trinidad & Tobago)
This is a beautiful book. If you only read one book set in the Caribbean, this should be it. The writing transports me to the island of Trinidad, with the heat and the vegetation and the turmoil of centuries of different groups of people moving through. I loved how it was written, with the majority of the story happening in the present, and then other sections going back to the beginning and then moving forward to meet up to where it started.
The story is about George and Sabine Harwood, who come to Trinidad in 1956, right after marrying, and right after Trinidad has achieved 'independence.' Throughout the book, Sabine converses with Trinidad as the curvy green woman stealing her man away, while also writing unsent letters to Eric Williams, the new leader of the nation. There are many conflicts that seem to belong to the island, potentially lacking any possibility for resolution. Sabine ends up loathing the island, and you feel it with her. Her children are also Trinidadian through and through, which isolates her further.
The best opening line:
"Every afternoon, around four, the iguana fell out of the coconut tree."
"Frank stood erect, gazing at the priest, absorbing every word. This was how Trinidadians behaved in church: alert, composed, peering respectfully at the altar, awaiting a miracle. Carnival and Lent. Bacchanal and guilt. Trinidad in a nutshell. This was a nation of sin-loving people who made a point of praying for forgiveness."
"Sabine looked at her daughter, who looked just like George. She was bold like him, clever like him. A Trinidadian, like him."
"Love happens to you... The other person's spirit climbs into you. You feel so much for them. If they get hurt, you hurt. If you hurt them, you hurt yourself."
For culinary inspiration:
"But Jennifer only rolled her eyes. She'd dominated the kitchen all day, baking gooey cakes and sweet-breads, stewing chicken with brown sugar. She'd been making pellau for the weekend. On the kitchen table, two halves of Madeira sponge were just out of the oven, cooling on racks."
"'Jennifer is baking cakes in the kitchen.'
'I know you like to eat banana cake when it's still warm.'"
"Jennifer brought out a pot of tea and slices of ginger cake."
The market on Charlotte Street, the first time:
"Jars and jars of spices: nutmeg, mace, powdered ginger, star anise. Vermilion salted prunes, magenta dried mango. Castles of brown sugared coconut candy behind glass cabinets... breadfruit and jack fruit and sapodilla plums. Guavas and jars of dark unguent which was guava jam. Custard apples. Pawpaws, which were rude and pendulous, somehow still growing. Tamarinds in their rough-smooth suitcases. Choko and okra and bodi and pumpkins. Limes like grapefruit and grapefruit like cannonballs. Bananas still on their stalks, great emerald hands."
About using plants to heal (something our boat captain in the Bahamas talked about too):
"When Pascale cut open her knee, Lucy boiled up pomegranate flowers into a tea for her to sip and the cut healed quickly. When the children had diarrhoea, she gave them pomegranate bark to chew. Colds and coughs Lucy cured with a cool beverage of hibiscus petals. Jackfruit, if they were constipated. Spinach leaves for poultices on boils. Ginger for gas, slices of aubergine, melongene, for minor sprains.