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I’m a firm believer that the gateway to fact is often through fiction. At least it is for me. No disrespect to the nonfiction readers out there, but I tend to learn about social and political events, people, and places through novels. I compare this to the moment in college when I discovered that I loved history when it was accompanied by pictures (i.e. art history!). Creating an entry point for discovery that involves human motivation and emotions draws me into a story and teaches me what I might otherwise never seek.
The perfect example of this type of historical fiction is Monique Roffey’s The White Woman on the Green Bicycle. This is the story of George and Sabine Harwood, newlyweds who leave England for what is to be a 3-year stint in Trinidad. Sabine views their time in Trinidad as an adventurous detour, while George experiences it as a permanent escape from mediocrity. The story of George and Sabine’s fierce and flawed love for each other parallels the story of Trinidad’s independence, which is ushered in by the charismatic and controversial leader Eric Williams. Caught up in the political and social unrest, George and Sabine react differently. Their experiences of Trinidad diverge, leaving them at odds both suspicious and resentful of one another.
This novel has been classified as a love story, which at first strikes me as a little reductive. While this is a story of a marriage, it is also a story of Trinidad. It’s a story of colonialism and oppression, class and culture, beauty and violence. Trinidad—a place that I knew only through Caribbean travel guides—is a character herself, forming the third piece of a very unconventional love triangle. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle sent me to maps and books—looking to verify parts of the novel and feeling that wonderful sense of discovery that comes with new knowledge. These are just a few other titles that sent me to the nonfiction stacks to learn more:
Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland