Like a wily veteran writer, first-time author Suzanne Joinson weaves two equally compelling narratives, separated by 90 years, and by subtle stages reveals to us the relation between the two. In A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar Ms. Joinson appeals to our lust for far-off places, for epic travels and sacrifices, for convulsive moments in history, and satisfies – oh, so graciously – our desire for first-rate, lovely fiction.
In one narrative strand we follow the life of Eva, a missionary traveling in 1923 from England to the remote desert in which China, Turkmenistan, and the Soviet Union all border each other. Arriving in the city then known as Kashgar (present-day Kashi, of China), she and her two fellow missionaries fall immediately into turmoil with the native Mohammedan population. These misadventures lead to estrangement, imprisonment, violence, and death. The second story exhibits the troubles of anxious and rootless Frieda, of present-day London. She is also a professional traveler to the Middle East, and is on a quest of her own, no less daunting in its way. Each narrative is as interesting and compulsively readable as the other.
For debut fiction, this work’s maturity, subtlety, compassion, and sophistication strike me as astonishing. Western women sallying into the Moslem world, encountering Moslem men and mores, the demands of family and faith, howthe world overflows with possibility – Ms. Joinson treats these themes with balance and a highly engaging consideration for her readers. She likewise yokes the two stories together in a full and timely way, with satisfying results all the way around.
This novel presents the undeniable case: here is a remarkable authorial talent, who has hit her stride with her very first entry. Take it up!