The excitement of discovering this book was one I have not felt for years. It is all the things great literature should be: it shows as well as teaches; it is recognizable but fresh; it is on some level profound; it is memorable. The book is written in dialect, and it was a revelation to me to see phrases written down that I’d only ever heard. It added much to the general impression of the first section of the book as a stage play. And a wonderful, rich, funny, tragic stage play it would be.
The cover copy of White Woman… says it is a love story, and so it is. But this is the story of a love affair with a country, and with a people, as well as love between two married people. Just as one recognizes the ups-and-downs in a marriage, the love affair with the country follows the same pattern—lavish love, and lashing pain. Sabine, the main character, describes her early love of George, her husband, in the following way:
Our courtship was very swift. We won each other, you could say. We were each other’s prize. People liked us, we were one of those couples; other people enjoyed having us around. Parties were gayer when we were there. Others basked in our happiness, envied our devotion. We brought out the potential in each other. George, in those days, gave me the experience of being at my best, moments, hours, days, a long period of complete happiness.”“We brought out the potential in each other.” This is the way I always thought love with another person could be—a state where one is something more, something better, when the other person is by one's side. The story takes place in Trinidad over a period of fifty years. Sabine and George come as representatives of a British shipping company, and find a way to live and love through the rise and fall of politicians promising more for locals, less for foreigners.
In an interview, Roffey tells us she did a lot of research before she began to write. The tight narration of the political scene in Trinidad during the 1960’s and 1970’s does much to enhance our interest in the concomitant lives of Sabine and George. One comes away feeling one has witnessed history--and that we share that history. The book has connected us to the Trinidad, a “landscape parading it’s fertility, a banquet of eccentric delicacies.”
Monique Roffey is not really a newcomer: this is her second novel, which became a nominee for The Orange Prize, one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prizes, annually awarded to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English, and published in the UK the previous year. Roffey’s first novel, Sun Dog, was published in 2002 by Scribner. Sun Dog, set in South America, employed magic-realism, and was warmly received by critics. My guess is that it may show us the early promise of this accomplished novelist.
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