Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

Review: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne JoinsonA Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
Published by Bloomsbury USA on January 1, 2012
Pages: 373
Goodreads |

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.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar reads the way you savor a piece of expensive chocolate. You get a small taste at first, but as it melts, your taste buds experience the nuances all at once. This is a book to be savored. I didn’t read it all in one sitting and I don’t advocate doing so. As much as I wanted to sit down and finish this book all in one day, I let the narrative unfold slowly. There’s a lot to think about.

I wavered back and forth as to which story lines I liked the best. Eva’s story is much more prominent and dramatic. She’s a part of a missionary trip along the Silk Road with her sister, Lizzie, and a fanatical woman named Millicent. Eva is the odd woman out. She doesn’t have devout faith (which she hides) like the other two women. She’s there to make something of herself. She’s there to write. She’s there to experience. To live. What she gets is a battle between cultures and a battle to save her sister. She is also given charge of an unwanted baby.

Frieda’s story is set during modern times and is about her journey toward understanding her mother. She’s also tasked with disposing of Irene Guy’s belongings. She’s listed as Irene’s only relative and she doesn’t even know who Irene is. The reader uncovers the connection as Frieda does. It was utterly compelling. I figured it out well before Frieda did but it certainly didn’t spoil anything for me. Frieda’s relationship with Tayeb is beautiful. They both feel a disconnect with their past and that gives them a really powerful connection. I thoroughly enjoyed watching their relationship unfold.

The cultural tension is written beautifully in both the past and the present. Both Eva and Tayeb’s lives are rooted in cultural upheaval. So is Frieda’s for that matter. I can’t say much more because of spoilers. Simply put, a major theme in this book is globalization. It’s obvious that Suzanne Joinson has seen the effects of globalization.

I noticed that a lot of people on Goodreads couldn’t finish the book. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because they tried to read it too quickly. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar needs attention. It needs a reader who lingers over every word. Skimming does not do this book justice. Suzanne Joinson’s writing is simply stunning.


© 2014, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.

  • I haven’t heard of this one before but it sounds really unique. And I know exactly what you mean about the need to read it slowly as that is the way I read classics as I give myself time to savour them. Great review, I’m intrigued by this one now!

    • JessicaWorkman

      Thanks. If you do read it, drop me a line and let me know what you think!