Title: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar: A Novel
Author: Suzanne Joinson
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, AudioCD, AudioBook
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Audio Producer: Tantor Media
Length: 10 Hours, 21 minutes
Source: Tantor Media via Edelweiss
Genre: Historical Fiction
Stars: Overall: 3 Narration: 4 Story: 3
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About the Book:
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.
This is a debut novel for Suzanne Joinson, and contains sections of prose that describe the scenes to perfection. Occasionally there are moments that work less smoothly in the story and narration; a sense of self-awareness of the literary nature of the prose gets in the way and the passages aren’t as smooth. Those moments tend to overuse descriptive words that remove the reader’s sense of input into the visualization: a stylistic affectation that will, I believe, disappear with time and attention. The story carries a dream-like quality in the writing, providing a sense of remove from the characters. Unfortunately, this quality doesn’t necessarily stand up to close scrutiny of the characterizations or their connection.
Separated by nearly a century Evangeline and Freida are the two women we come to learn from and watch as they learn and grow in their adventures. Evangeline was a half-hearted missionary with her more pious sister and an acquaintance: her real intent is to pen the book A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Alternately, Freida is a single woman, functioning in the modern world as a travel writer. Her bicycle is her mode of transport through the often gridlocked London traffic.
What emerges is a slow to develop convergence of the two women: both are striving for freedom, independence and empowerment as they self-direct their lives. Eva has a richer life emotionally and experience wise, and is more intriguing when contrasted to the often overly emphatic characters in her travel companions. Frieda is emotionally guarded and rather dry, and feels as if she is there to simply pull parallels from past to present, forcing the connection between the two women. Tayeb is interesting and brings with him a new perspective, but only momentarily is his position primary to Frieda’s journey, and their connection never seems to develop into a solid one, ending with a whimper and not a bang. Sadly the connected threads of experience from past to present characters did not develop as solidly or as strongly as I hoped, being shadows at the edge of consciousness rather than fully formed analogies.
Narration for this story is provided by Susan Duerden: she has a very precise and deliberate speaking style, which may feel to some listeners as if she is over-enunciating. In fact, the style is not dramatically distracting, if you are familiar and comfortable with the British accent and the minor pitch and tempo changes that are used to delineate characters are not over-done.
I would be curious to see if reading the book brings another perspective, but it was certainly an interesting and intriguing story with some beautiful details and descriptions and a unique presentation of east meets west.
I received an MP3 download from Tantor Audio via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review for the Heard Word. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.