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Green Bike Recycled

Posted: 05/06/11 04:34 PM ET

My mother and father arrived in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in January 1956, on a banana boat-- with two suitcases and a green bicycle. She was a keen cyclist and thought it would be a good idea to bring her Raleigh bike all the way from Southampton. In the 1950s, as a young woman, she rode around on it and quickly became know to passers by as 'that woman on the green bicycle'. My mother is a great story-teller. Over the years, I'd heard many stories of her early adventures in Trinidad, but she had never mentioned this bike to me until I was in my 30s and had become a novelist. The image stuck, rather a romantic image, and became the title of a novel I would one day write set in Trinidad.

The green bicycle is a metaphorical image too; it has something to do with her European ideals, her mistaken and simplified notions about Trinidad, and the freedom she gave up on arriving in such a turbulent era. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is a love story mapped on to an unfolding political tragedy, that of the failure of the Independence era in Trinidad. In it, I have blended family biography, real life characters, historical events and fiction. It stars two Prime Ministers, one living, the other dead, and a host of other characters, some of whom, like The Mighty Sparrow and Brian Lara, are well known in Trinidad.

The novel also has a touch of magical realism, just a touch; iguanas that fall from trees, talking mountains and mango trees. Trinidad was part of mainland South America and shares its lush and colourful flora and fauna. The city of Port of Spain nestles in the fertile hips of green mountains which look like a colossal green woman lying on her side. I subscribe to what Alejo Carpentier called 'lo maravilloso real', that the history and geography of the Caribbean and Latin America is so baroque and extreme that it seems either fictional or magical to outsiders. The book allows the reader to see this slightly blurred world through European eyes. My family arrived on the island in 1956 and have been there ever since. I was born in Trinidad, and so were my nieces and nephews; we have all become 'creolized,' part of things on the island. This is also a story about the creolisation of a European family, a long slow and irreversible process.

I never knew what happened to my mother's green bicycle. When my novel was published in the UK in July 2009, I began a blog. Soon afterwards I was contacted by a man called David Doig, whose son is the famous artist Peter Doig. It was David Doig who solved the mystery. Oh, my wife Mary bought that bicycle off your mother, he said happily. She fell off it once or twice, but he had it for years. I was pleased to find out what happened to the now infamous green bicycle, that it had been somehow - er, recycled.