Friday, May 4, 2012

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A Novel by Susan Joinstone

This was advanced reader copy I received via NetGalley.

I decided to read this book after seeing the cover, and liking the time period mentioned in the summary of the book. I had no idea, really, that I would enjoy it so much. Great storytelling, told in a unique way, with two threads of a story running parallel and occasioanally interweaving. This novel does not disappont.

 Naturally, being the curious reader I am, I immediately looked up Kashgar on the internet after reading the first chapter.  Kashgar (accoeding to the almighty Wikipedia), is a city located in China, but near the border, and close to Tajikistan.  It has always been a place of great civil unrest, and during the time setting of this novel (early 1900's), was a dangerous place. Muslims there worship in the largest Mosque in all of China. Obviously, not a place welcoming to Westerners.

Eva English is very much a Westerner. She and her sister, Elizabeth, are missionaries, being led through the hazardous Eastern deserts by Millicent, their leader in the Order of the Steadfast Pace, on horseback, with Eva on her bicycle, of course. Eva is not as true to the cause of being a missionary as her devoted sister actally seems to be, but Eva is taking advantage of the adventure to write a guide boks for woman riding on bike through the region, although her companions do not know this. A terrible event occurs, and when the women stop and try to help, they become captives of the governing forces of Kashgar, held after trying to aid a very young woman who gives birth to a child on the side of the road and dies, tragically. The women take the child and are brought to the city where they are "guests," held until a trial can be arranged. They are free to wander about the city at first, and Millicent reaches out to a priest, another missionary, but a very odd person indeed.

 Flash forward to the present day, London, England. We meet Frieda, a young woman, frustrated with her ongoing affair with a slightly older, married man, and tired from her diplomatic travles and globe trotting. Nathaniel has children and a business, and is selfish with her. Frieda has complicated relationships with her parents. In her first days home, two odd things happen: she meets an illegal immigrant from Yemen who takes refuge on her doorstep, and she finds she has been left the property of an older deceased lady who she does not know.

So, these two storylines continue this way. Eva's life is frightening and complicated. She is now taking care of a child, an infant, and this job is all consuming. Lizzie is somehow charmed by Millicent and her constant demands, and Eva discovers many secrets about her sister, whom she feels she must protect in this strange land. Millicent controls her. Eva eventually learns many secrets.

Frieda also discovers things about her life she had no idea about. The two stories weave in and out, intermingling in so many complex ways. I was amazed at the incredible storytelling in this novel. The timeliness of it was striking,

Without giving too much away, of course Eva and Frieda have a connection. Frieda learns a lot about herself in a short period of time, while Eva's journey is longer and more convoluted, but still rewarding.

I can't recommend this wonderful novel enoough. I was really struck by the genius of the stroies and their interlocking parts, fitting together as the novel prgressed like a Chinese box. Mysterious and beautiful, this is a well crafted and well written novel.

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