Bloomsbury USA/historical fiction
Release Date: June 4, 2012
It is 1923. Evangeline (Eva) English and her sister Lizzie are missionaries heading for the 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 a pillow, and in the morning finds 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 one 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 toward home. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar marks the debut of a wonderfully talented new writer.
There is no doubt that Suzanne Joinson is an extremely talented writer. You could feel the heat and dust blowing across parched skin, smell the acrid stench of animals in the market and hear the shrill cry of a sick and motherless infant. If you are looking for a sensory experience, you will be hard pressed to find another so rich and realistic.
I have spent several days trying to pin down my feelings on the story. Joinson presents us with a plethora of deeply flawed characters and places them in apparently hopeless situations. In the end, I found it was just….sad. There are hopeful moments and it is beautifully presented, but it isn’t a story that leaves you feeling warm and content.
My verdict: Read it. It is a beautifully done, albeit melancholy, story.