A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

JoinsonLadyCyclistsGuideToKashgarWhy I Read It: I love stories about women in foreign lands unescorted by males.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher via Edelweiss (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Primarily, this is a story about connecting with people. If you need a heart-warmer with a complex plot, check this out.

Narrator: Susan Duerden

Publisher: Tantor Media (2012)

Length: 10 hours 30 minutes

Eva and Lizzie join a missionary, Millicent, on a trip along the Silk Road in the early 1900s. While Lizzie has the religious calling, Eva takes a bicycle and plans to write a book based on a cycling trip. The book starts off with an emergency birth and the death of the mother; the babe is taken in care by Eva as they settle into a missionary. There are few other Europeans in the area, including an Italian monk who is besotted with his homemade wine. Things start to unravel as the sisters drift further apart and Millicent’s controlling fist enrages the locals with her religious pamphlets. the book bounces back and forth between these ladies (through Eva’s journal entries) and modern day London. There, Frieda finds herself in an unhealthy relationship with a married man, rudderless in life, and an apartment’s worth of belongings dropped on her from a woman she has never heard of. As she works to sort through that minor mystery, she also finds a pet owl came with the belongings – one that escapes temporarily. Tayeb, a Yemeni man who Frieda has done a kindness, knows a little about birds and helps her retrieve the owl. Life continues to throw the two together as Frieda unravels not only the mystery of the dead woman, but also learns a little more about her own parents, and eventually about herself.

This is a rich and heavy book, full of inner contemplation and sometimes doubts by the main characters. Suzanne Joinson shows the complexities of human interactions simply through the eyes of two women (Eva & Frieda) who exist decades apart. Each has her own clash with foreign cultures in different ways, and each are changed forever by those clashes. This book started off intense with the birth of a baby, but then mellowed out considerably as the reader gained more info on the characters and their surroundings. Indeed, I was a little concerned for a bit as to whether or not the book would pick up again, but it did, and I am glad I stuck with it. I enjoyed how Joinson showed the unrealistic expectations of the English ladies in the early 1900s Kashgar with their English meals three times a day, etc. At first there was a fair amount of religious talk from Millicent and Lizzie, but this became balanced by Eva’s hesitancy to shove religious believes and culture on the local people.

The missionary stuff is also balanced by modern-day Frieda, who is English but not Caucasian nor particularly religious. Her separated parents have had a variety of believes throughout Frieda’s childhood. Indeed, there was a scene with a water wand that was pretty amusing. At a later point in the story, Frieda feels she must find her mother, who left her and her father when Frieda was young, to have some of her questions answered. Her father helps her track her mother to a commune, where we learn not only a few interesting philosophical believes, but also key pieces to the story. Frieda’s interactions with Tayeb are sometimes awkward but also on a much more equal footing than the high & mighty Millicent to the unwashed masses of Kashgar. The difference between these sets of interactions cleverly shows how globalization has done much to break down cultural barriers.

Now you have heard all the things I enjoyed about this book. There was really just two things that didn’t click for me, one of which is that lull in the story I already mentioned. The second thing is there are several minor characters and one key secondary character there are gay and with the exception of one of those characters, all are portrayed in a bad light. Indeed, one outright takes advantage of another person, two others beat the snot out of another character, and a fourth is rather uncaring and a bit of snot to one of our main characters. Without the one kind-hearted gay person we find later in the book, I was starting to wonder if the author had an issue with homosexuality in general. While a very minor part of the book, I did feel it gave it a slight unbalanced quality and it detracted a bit on my personal enjoyment of the book.

Just a note on Edelweiss – They made it very easy to download this book once my request for it had been approved.

Narration: Susan Duerden was excellent with all the ladies’ voices, making each one distinct. Her mail voices, especially that of Frieda’s boyfriend, were believable. Her high & mighty voice for Millicent was perfect and her accents (British, Italian, Arabic) were well done.

What I Liked: A sense of foreignness then and now; the mystery of the dead woman’s apartment threading throughout the plot; Eva’s journal entries; the owl; a scene that involves drawing on a person’s back; what Frieda finds at the commune; the ending was very satisfying.

What I Disliked: There was a lull shortly after the start of the book which took a few hours’ reading to get through; the portrayal of gays in this book.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

Novelicious

Historical Fiction Notebook

Iris on Books

Cozy Little Book Journal

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