Saturday, 16 June 2012
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is a dual narrative story set in the past and the present. In 1923, Evangeline (Eva) and her sister set out on a missionary trip to the Silk Road city of Kashgar, which has a fusion of Chinese and Islamic culture. But Eva is only pretending to be a missionary; she dreams of becoming an adventurer like her hero Richard Burton and of writing a best-selling account of her travels. In the present day, Frieda works for a think tank travelling around various Arab countries and producing reports. Returning to London after another long trip she finds Tayeb sleeping by her door and a letter informing her of an inheritance from someone she has never heard of.
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar contains many elements that I generally love in fiction - a dual narrative, historical fiction elements, Islamic culture, travel and feminism/independent women. I was expecting to love it and it completely lived up to my expectations. After a bit of a slow start the pace picked up and I was soon completely engrossed in what would happen to Eva and Frieda. What I loved most was the way the author's love of travel completely suffused the whole novel and how Eva grew up reading travel books, just like I did;
"It was reading her descriptions of the candles and lights and the mysterious glittering interiors, the tapirs, silks, the jewels and hangings that had inspired my desire to travel."
As with any dual narrative book, one story was stronger than the other. Whilst I enjoyed reading about Frieda, it was Eva's story that captivated me. The woman in charge of their missionary trip, Millicent, has no concept of sensitivity to local culture and the three women soon find themselves in danger, forcing Eva to confront the darker side of travel ("despite a childhood of examining maps and reading adventure stories, I realise I am quite terrified of the desert"). I just flew through Eva's sections of the book.
Although I subjectively loved this book, I can see that it's not without fault. At times it feels like Joinson is trying to do too much, commenting on travel, motherhood, women's rights, prejudice against Muslims, alternative childhoods, cults and adultery. Some readers won't connect with Frieda's story. But despite all of this, I just loved A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel books or historical fiction.
Source: From Bloomsbury, via Netgalley
Published: 4th June 2012
Score: 4.5 out of 5
1. The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark - Another dual narrative travel story, this one set in India. One of the stories centers around two unconventional Victorian women and India is a character in it's own right.
2. The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger - Sally travels to Egypt with her mistress, Lady Duff Gordon and finds the restraints of Victorian society slightly loosened. Wonderful descriptions of Egypt.