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.
"Starred Review. Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages, nicely reminding us that odd twists of fate sometimes aren't that odd. Highly recommended." - Library Journal
"Present and past meld into an exploration of conflicting traditions in an impressive debut that shifts smoothly between 1920s Turkestan and present-day England." - Publishers Weekly
"This complex and involving historical novel examines the idea of home, the consequences of exile, the connection between mother and daughter, and the power dynamics of sexual relationships." - Booklist
"An astonishing, epic colonial-era travel book combined with a modern meditation on where we belong and how we connect in the world - I could not put it down." - Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
"Eccentric and full of twists and surprises and in the end very touching. Above all bold and different and extremely readable." - Katharine McMahon, author of The Rose of Sebastopol
"A haunting, original and beautifully written tale that conveys a sense of profound alienation, and of other realities." - Paul Torday, bestselling author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
"A heartfelt story about adventurous women and a fascinating history of life in a remote corner of the Silk Road in the early twentieth century; utterly beguiling." - Rebecca Stott, author of Darwin's Ghosts
"Richly imaginative and daring in the way it weaves together time-scapes and landscapes." - Gillian Beer
"A wonderfully evocative, fresh, and impressive debut. I admired its scope and its unexpectedness." - Jill Dawson, author of The Great Lover
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Rated of 5
Vicky S. (Torrance, CA)
Lady Cyclist's Guide
I enjoyed the interplay of the two stories and timelines and I was surprised by how they connected but I didn't care very much about the characters. I set it down before a a weekend trip since I was nearly done with it and wanted a new book to take me through the weekend and then was not compelled to finish it when I returned. The variety of characters and the cultural differences though could make for interesting book club conversations.
Rated of 5
Not what I was hoping for...
This fiction has a great premise "lady adventurers trekking through Asia." Its execution, however, left me cold. For me, I wish it had lived up to its marketing.
Rated of 5
Intimately real and hauntingly shocking.
Vulgar and blunt, yet achingly rhymatic in a harmonious prose that seeps into your conscienceness. The text challenges your preconceptions of the literary world but dares you to connect to the stark harshness of the locale. A foreign world that blinks through your mind, flirting with your imagination, such as a film reel spun out of control. The brutal observations are written in such a lush descriptive narrative that words congeal together nearly at too fast of a pace. There is a disconnection in dichotomy between the lives of the protagonists and the interplay of the native land.
Five women, four of the past, one of the present, set off on a journey that none of them signed up to partake in. They are cast into an impossible sequence of circumstances that lead three of them to a journey towards personal enlightenment. It is these women who stand out to the unsuspecting reader as the main voices of the evolving story: Evangeline, Ai-Lien, and Frieda. You become a purveyor of their thoughts and emotions as one might discover whilst digging through a personal diary. Intimately real and hauntingly shocking. Their fragility and frailties split open and raw on the printed page.
Rated of 5
Andrea S. (Lafayette, IN)
Not What I Thought
I read the description of this book and thought I might find it interesting. Upon reading it, I found it to be slow and uninteresting. It is what I would call literary fiction, a genre I don't always enjoy. The plot was interesting, but Suzanne Joinson's writing style slowed it down and I would often just want her to get on with it. I did finish the book, but I was never really involved with the characters. I just wanted to see how she would end it.
Rated of 5
Elinor S. (Loudonville, NY)
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
This book was interesting from the standpoint of life in Turkistan in the 1920's. The unrest was very realistically described as were the desert scenes. The main characters were strong women with stong survival skills. I would not recommend this as reading for any of my three book clubs as I felt all the characters could have been better developed. I felt I learned more about the places than the people.
Rated of 5
Jan B. (Tetonia, ID)
A LAdy Cyclist's guide to Kashgar
I love the idea of what the writer was creating with this story. Three women who leave London to become missionaries in Kashgar. Each of them with their own "agenda" as to why they were really going. I found some characters not very well developed, and the writing fairly bland, especially in the earlier part of the book. I also felt that the description of the different cultures were not fully realized, though the emotional intent was. It felt like this story is still in rough form, though with great potential if fleshed out more. I do like the counter story of modern day London, and the woman who gets left this estate with no idea of the connection to her. And the growing romance between the modern protagonist and an immigrant from Yemen was to me a delightful set of circumstance that unknowingly reverberated with her families past.
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. It feels undone.
Suzanne Joinson works in the literature department of the British Council, specializing in the Middle East, North Africa, and China, and she is the Arts Council-funded writer-in-residence at Shoreham Airport in the UK. Her personal blog can be found online at http://delicatelittlebirds.wordpress.com, and she tweets at @suzyjoinson. Visit her website at www.suzannejoinson.com.
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