Cycling through sand – A Lady’s Cyclist’s Guide to Kasghar, by Suzanne Joinson

A bicycling guide for the desert,’ he smiled. ‘how curious.’

A girl named Elizabeth is riding on horseback alongside her leader Millicent (also on horseback) and her sister Evangeline, who follows them on a bicycle.

lady cyclist's guide kashgar suzanne joinson

These three women enter a world unknown to them, the dessert of China, to establish a Christian mission. They arrive in Kashgar and due to some unfortunate events the little group has to welcome another member, a newborn, and have to settle down. It is there, in 1923 in the little town of Kashgar, where Evangeline, a lady cyclist, commences with work on her book A Lady’s Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar.

The tale of a modern-day traveler Frieda set in present-day London is another one that is told. Her life takes an interesting turn on the day she comes home from work abroad and finds a man sleeping on the landing in front of her door. The path her life takes is evenly as unexpected as Evangeline’s.

These two enthralling tales are written by Suzanne Joinson in her debut A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Two stories combined and interweaved with alternating chapters.

Joinson works in the literature department of the British council and regularly visits the Middle East, North Africa, China and Europe. She knows the places she writes about. You feel it in every detail she describes. The exotic places really come to life and form an almost tangible image.

The baby breathes magical air, her skin is mole-skin soft. The tips of her fingers pat against my arm, it is the softest feeling, like a butterfly walking. Lashes are black insect legs, sticking to a cheek. Skin hangs around the knees, waiting for bones to expand inside. She likes to be folded in against me.

While vivid images of seemingly endless desserts spring to my mind when reading of Kasghar, the images of present-day London are vague. Frieda’s life is not as gripping and as compelling as Eva’s. Though more realistic and easier to understand it doesn’t haunt me as much as the intriguing story of the three women. But it seems as if I am the only with these thoughts. Many really appreciate the alternating stories, while I do not think Frieda’s character adds much to the book. But in the end I didn’t find the chapters on Frieda’s life much disturbing and they didn’t feel as annoying interruptions while reading, because even though the stories seem to be standing on their own in the beginning you will halfway through get some hints that tell you otherwise.

The keen lady cyclist Evangeline and the young hard working Frieda have a lot in common. Both have a love for cycling and feel a freedom that two wheels strapped to an iron body can give you. Suzanne takes you on an adventure, shows you the journey of these two strong women in search for family and happiness, and she does it well.

Though some parts may be predictable, A Ladys Cyclists Guide to Kashgar is a very promising debut. Descriptive, densely plotted and lovingly written. Joinson has placed herself on the front line of the never ending battle for best writers and she has a good chance of getting out alive.

Seated awheel, the bicyclist feels master of the situation. The bicycle obeys the sligtest impulse, moving at will, almost without conscious effort, virtually as much a part of the rider, and as easily under contril, as hand or foot.

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