Calypso: Background information when reading The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

A Novel

by Monique Roffey

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey X
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Apr 2011, 448 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Calypso

Print Review

In 1956, Americans were getting their first taste of Trinidad's unique contribution to music in the form of Harry Belafonte's infectious crossover hit, "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)." A brief fervor for all things calypso followed, resulting in such nutty fare as tough guy actor Robert Mitchum's album, Calypso - Is Like So... (1957), and kitschy B movie Bop Girl Goes Calypso (1957). Although Belafonte may have been known as the King of Calypso in the United States (a claim to fame never made for Mitchum), Trinidadians revered serious performers like Lord Kitchener, Sir Lancelot, and the Mighty Sparrow, and for them, calypso symbolized much more than barbecue background music.


The roots of calypso are believed to date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when West African slaves introduced gayup - a kind of call and response music led by a chantwell - to the Caribbean. These songs endured through centuries of colonization by the Spanish, French, and British, and, after slavery was abolished in the mid-19th century, were incorporated into the music of the European Lenten celebration known as Carnival.

Combining the festive costumes and parades of the French plantation owners with an African call and response song structure and steel percussion instruments, Trinidadians thus created the first calypsos; these often took the form of musical competitions with invigorating boasts and chants that hailed the victorious while heaping derision on the defeated.

Calypso quickly evolved into a medium for socially conscious messages, leading to such hits as "Rum and Coca Cola" (1943) by Lord Invader, an attack on the loose morals indulged in by American soldiers and their local paramours, and the Mighty Sparrow's "Jean and Dinah" (1956), which addressed the struggles of prostitutes deprived of their livelihood after the exodus of American military bases from Trinidad.

More recently, calypso has sprouted such offshoots as soca (a fast-paced, percussion-heavy, electronic music born in the 1970s that captures a more rock and disco oriented audience), and rapso (a hybrid of calypso and spoken word poetry that reflects the Black Power movement of the '70s and '80s), which is often associated with musician Brother Resistance (see video below).


In The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, a novel that often blends fact and fiction, the Mighty Sparrow makes an appearance, discussing his illustrious career with George. Initially a supporter of Williams, Sparrow grew disillusioned with the island's leader and recorded a dismissal called "Get to Hell Outta Here" in 1965 (both in reality and in the novel). Won over by this charismatic and forthright people's hero, George realizes that Sparrow is "a performer through and through, a persuader with devastating charm, a man of love." These same qualities could describe calypso equally well, as this music informs, convinces, and romances its listeners.

Article by Marnie Colton

This article is from the May 12, 2011 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Only Child
    Only Child
    by Rhiannon Navin
    Rhiannon Navin's debut novel, Only Child received an overall score of 4.8 out of 5 from BookBrowse ...
  • Book Jacket: Brass
    Brass
    by Xhenet Aliu
    In 1996, Waterbury, Connecticut is a town of abandoned brass mills. Eighteen-year-old Elsie ...
  • Book Jacket: Timekeepers
    Timekeepers
    by Simon Garfield
    If you can spare three minutes and 57 seconds, you can hear the driving, horse-gallop beat of Sade&#...
  • Book Jacket: How to Stop Time
    How to Stop Time
    by Matt Haig
    Tom Hazard, the protagonist of How to Stop Time, is afflicted with a condition of semi-immortality ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

A nuanced portrait of war, and of three women haunted by the past and the secrets they hold.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The French Girl
    by Lexie Elliott

    An exhilarating debut psychological suspense novel for fans of Fiona Barton and Ruth Ware.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Only Child
    by Rhiannon Navin

    A dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Beartown

Now in Paperback!

From the author of a A Man Called Ove, a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T I M A Slip B C A L

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.