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A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A Novel Hardcover – May 22, 2012

3.4 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“The dramatic opening of Suzanne Joinson's thrilling and densely plotted first novel offers only a suggestion of the tumult to come…. Joinson, who has herself traveled widely on behalf of the British council, controls her narrative with skill: this is an impressive debut, its prose as lucid and deep as a mountain lake. Joinson also has a gift for evoking finely calibrated shifts of feeling… [she] illuminates her narrative with a playfulness that borders on the Gothic…. Through Frieda and Eva and their companions, Joinson explores notions of freedom, rootlessness, dislocation – any writer's reliable arsenal. But she makes these themes her own.” ―Sara Wheeler, The New York Times Book Review

“At its heart, this exquisite novel celebrates the gifts that travel into far-off cultures confers: the displacements that throw into resilient relief our transcendent human connections.” ―National Geographic Traveler, Book of the Month

“Charming.” ―O: The Oprah Magazine

“Having traveled to Asia and the Middle East while working for the British council, Joinson knows what it's like to be a stranger far from home. And she's captured that feeling, often poetically, in her debut.” ―Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly

“It takes less than a page for Suzanne Joinson to seize your attention…. there is so much here that is wonderful: the author's crisp, uncluttered story-telling, her graceful prose, and her ability to inhabit the character of a young woman in 1924 and a contemporary young woman with equal depth and ease. It is an impressive first novel.” ―Nan Goldberg, The Boston Globe

“An astonishing epic – colonial-era travel combined with a modern meditation on where we belong and how we connect in the world – I could not put it down.” ―Helen Simonson, bestselling author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

“An interesting and unique juxtaposition of times and experiences that lingers and invites reflection.” ―Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post

“Suzanne Joinson beckons readers with lush, evocative prose, yet never lets her gift for poetry interfere with a good story--or, to be more precise, two good stories…. Readers of A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar are certain to enjoy a literary journey that is not unlike the best bicycle ride--invigorating and challenging, with plenty of hills, vales and scenic views to keep one's blood pumping and spirits soaring.” ―Karen Cullotta, BookPage

“Ms. Joinson layers her basic narrative with references to religious hypocrisy, cultural ignorance and sexual gamesmanship, throwing in for good measure Arabic ornithological mythology, bicycling tips for the novice female rider, and the dangers of cult worship. . . . Ms. Joinson succeeds in keeping us moving and takes us to places very far away before we reach the end of this immensely satisfying story.” ―Norman Powers, New York Journal of Books

“A haunting, original, and beautifully written tale that conveys a sense of profound alienation and of other realities.” ―Paul Torday, bestselling author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

“Present and past meld into an exploration of conflicting traditions in an impressive debut…. An intriguing window into the difficulties of those who attempt to reach across cultural barriers.” ―Publishers Weekly, boxed review

“Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages, nicely reminding us that odd twists of fate sometimes aren't that odd. Highly recommended.” ―Library Journal, starred review

“This complex and involving historical novel examines the idea of home, the consequences of exile, the connection between mother and daughter, and the power dynamics of sexual relationships.” ―Booklist

About the Author

Suzanne Joinson works in the literature department of the British Council, specializing in the Middle East, North Africa, and China, and she is the Arts Council-funded writer-in-residence at Shoreham Airport in the UK. Her personal blog can be found online at delicatelittlebirds.wordpress.com, and she tweets at @suzyjoinson. Visit her Web site at www.suzannejoinson.com

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781608198115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608198115
  • ASIN: 1608198111
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,712 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Miss Barbara TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I tend to dismiss most of the so-called "Lady Books" out of hand anticipating the Chick-lit brand of formulaic story style. I am so glad that I made an exception for A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. This is a well written novel; actually at times a little overwritten, but it's Suzanne Joinson's first novel so we'll overlook that.

The story comes together in two strands, like the double helix, joining at the end and coalescing to present a fully formed chronicle of two tales set a century apart.

The narrator in 1923 is Eva, with the fiery red hair but plain of face. She was once told by a gentleman that "You have the hair of a Burne-Jones beauty, but sadly not the face". Her sister Liz, a photographer, has a Calling and joins missionary Millicent to bring The Word to the people along the old Silk Road. Eva, with her big green bicycle in tow, goes along under false pretenses but is actually scheming to write a travel book in this foreign and exotic land. She laments "I have convinced Millicent of my missionary calling. I have convinced a publisher of the worth of my proposed book. I have even tricked my dear sister who believes that I am here in His name: to do His Good Works. I should be feeling cleaver......To my surprise....I realize that I am quite terrified of the desert; of its insects that grow louder with the dusk; of its relentlessness, of becoming simply bones, left in a desert to petrify".

The trio is almost immediately put under house arrest in Kashgar by Mohammed, a Muslim, who accommodates them in his home with his wives and children. The clash of culture and religion sets an interesting plot point for the author to entertain us.

The second strand of the story is set in London in the present day.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The blurb describes "A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar" as wondrous. However, after I finished the book, I felt rather a little bit depressed at this inter-generational story of women struggling to make peace with their pasts.

Author Suzanne Joinson intertwines the stories of two women. One is about Evangeline (Eva) English who in 1923 is detained along with her sister, Lizzie, in the city of Kashgar, East Turkestan as their fellow missionary and mentor, Millicent Frost, is accused of a murder. The other story is that of Frieda Blaekman, the present-day Londoner who suddenly becomes responsible for the contents of an apartment of a deceased woman whose name she has never heard of before. Joinson uses the journal form to bring Evangeline closer in time to the readers while Frieda's story is narrated in third person so that we can fit together the pieces of her life and that of Tayeb, the illegal immigrant she befriended when she found him spending the night outside her apartment door.

On the surface, one may read Joinson's book as a historical adventure. Kashgar in the 1920s is an exotic but dangerous place. At another level, it could be a criticism toward religious control and power. However, Ms. Joinson paints equally unflattering portraits of both missionaries and gurus so that neither Western nor Eastern traditions win the day. At a deeper level, and this is one of the few things I liked about "A Lady Cyclist's Guide", was that the author touches on how we seem to be destined to repeat our parents' mistakes. Both Frieda and Eva struggle to make sense of their parents' views of love and their relationship choices as they affect their own.

I found Eva's story to be the most engaging of the two.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Two stories from two centuries intertwine in this exotic tale of distant travel, danger, betrayal, culture clashes, and loves lost and found. The narration alternates between present day London and 1923 Kashgar in a complex time shift with time moving ever faster. Or perhaps I just read faster as I became more and more involved in the story.

Knowing the ways of storytellers, I quickly surmised that the two disparate stories would eventually come together. Anticipation was pleasantly suspenseful, fueled by mysterious happenings.

The present-day heroine is Frieda Blakeman, a compulsive traveler who's highly paid to research the thinking of the youths of East and West. The early twentieth-century heroine is Evangeline English, who's posing as a missionary so she can write a travel guide to Kashgar. Miss English is traveling with her beautiful, ethereal photographer-sister - and a zealous, domineering older woman who leads their expedition.

Thrilling and frightening adventures await the reader in Kashgar. Equally colorful adventures unfold in London.

I found the structure of the novel clever and the story engaging. The portrait of fanatical religious attitudes (Eastern and Western) was thought provoking. Sometimes the writing is too self-consciously literary for my taste. But readers more poetic than me will probably love it.

If you think you'd enjoy an exotic adventure across time and space, and a fanciful prose style, then I'd recommend A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.
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