A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson (US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)
Finished: Jul. 20, 2012
First Published: May 22, 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Historical Fiction, China, 1920s
First sentence: "I unhappily report that even Bicycling for Ladies with hints as to the art of wheeling - advice to beginners - dress - care of the bicycle - mechanics - training - exercises, etc., etc. cannot assist me in this current predicament: we find ourselves in a situation."
"It is 1923. Evangeline (Eva) English and her sister Lizzie are missionaries heading for China’s ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar. Though Lizzie is on fire with her religious calling, Eva’s motives are not quite as noble, but with her green bicycle and a commission from a publisher to write A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, she is ready for adventure.
In present day London, a young woman, Frieda, returns from a long trip abroad to find a man sleeping outside her front door. She gives him a blanket and pillow and in the morning discovers the bedding neatly folded and an exquisite drawing of a bird with a long feathery tail, some delicate Arabic writing, and a boat made out of a flock of seagulls on her wall. Tayeb, in flight from his Yemeni homeland, befriends Frieda and, when she learns she has inherited the contents of an apartment belonging to a dead woman she has never heard of, they embark on an unexpected journey together.
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar explores the fault lines that appear when traditions from different parts of an increasingly globalized world crash into each other. Beautifully written and peopled by a cast of unforgettable characters, the novel interweaves the stories of Frieda and Eva, gradually revealing the links between them, and the ways in which they each challenge and negotiate the restrictions of their societies as they make their hard-won way towards home."
Acquired: Received an egalley from the publisher through Netgalley.
Reason for Reading: First off the title attracted me, then secondly I was both interested in the location and time period as these are favourite topics of mine.
A very intriguing story that kept me hooked from start to finish. Told in two points of view. One the first hand account of the diary of Eva as she travels through 1920s China as a Christian missionary at a time when it is under major Muslim upheaval. Second, the third person narrative of a modern day English woman and Arab immigrant man who meet surreptitiously and together put their lives back on track. I found the historical element entirely gripping and engrossing. I always enjoy stories told through journal entries and found Joinson has used this device well; bringing the reader into not only the time period and the plot but also the geography of a land that no longer exists in today's world. I found her detail for description to be just the right amount to bring her world to life without getting bogged down in tedium. It is a hot, dry, thirsty world and was perfect for my time spent reading in the hot days of summer. I totally loved the characters in this part of the story as well, though not actually personally liking anyone except Eva, they were all very large as life personalities who brought a tale of religious riot to life.
On the other hand I found the modern day story somewhat lacking. Taking up much less space than the other story, less time is given to developing the characters and I never felt connected to either Frieda or Tayeb. Their story seemed somewhat rushed, their connection not quite coherent and honestly Freida's story could have been told to greater depths without the Tayeb connection. This could have allowed the author to concentrate more on the mother/daughter theme which runs through the book but got lost and wasn't fulfilled to any great satisfaction. Freida and Tayeb's story was a pleasant diversion though and while I wasn't happy with how it connected to the past, it did connect, and proved itself in the end. For fans of epistolary fiction and historical fiction that concentrates on society and character rather than events.