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

“At its heart, Suzanne Joinson’s A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar 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

Suzanne Joinson - A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarA Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar - Suzanne JoinsonA Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar Synopsis

It is 1923 and Evangeline English arrives from England with her bicycle and her sister, Lizzie, at the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar to help establish a Christian mission. Lizzie is in thrall to their forceful and unyielding leader Millicent, but Eva’s motivations for leaving her comfortable life back home are less clear-cut. As they attempt to navigate their new surroundings and are met with resistance and calamity, Eva begins work on the book she has been commissioned to write, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar.

In present-day London another story unfolds. Frieda, a young woman adrift in her own life, opens her front door one night to find a man sleeping on the landing. In the morning he is gone, leaving on the wall an exquisite drawing of a long-tailed bird and a line of Arabic script. Tayeb, who has fled to England from Yemen, has arrived on Frieda’s doorstep just as she learns that she is the next-of-kin to a dead woman she has never heard of. The two wanderers begin an unlikely friendship as their worlds collide, and they embark on a journey that is as great, and as unexpected, as Eva’s.

A stunning debut peopled by unforgettable characters, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar is an extraordinary story of the search for belonging in a fractured and globalised world.


Genre: Action-Adventure, Drama, Historical, Literature, Mystery, Romance

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I admit it was the gorgeous cover-art that first drew me to Suzanne Joinson’s debut novel A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. I am now pleased to report that the novel contained within this facade is equally beautiful. This endorsement from Helen Simonson, the author of another novel I gushed over, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, did not hurt either:

‘An astonishing epic – I could not put it down’

I am a reader that likes some complexity in plot and so I really enjoyed Joinson’s use of an alternating chapter narrative. The first, Evangeline’s reflective first person narrative of her travels and the writing of her book A Lady’s Cyclist Guide to Kashgar was captivating from the outset.

Evangeline is an endearing character – a strong and independent woman who knew and spoke her own mind in a time when society did not necessarily encourage women to do so.

I should hide this book. Millicent has warned me several times not to write. She quotes John: ‘If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true’. But I do not write it for truth (what good is true to me?). Perhaps, I write it for sense. I write it for cohesion, I suppose, to understand the progression that must occur in the layering of different selves that create a life. I am aware that meaningful, straight-forward progression simply will not happen in these pages. It is not a very straightpforward Guide, nor am I straight-forward. It seems imperative that I keep it hidden.

There is a wonderful conspiratorial feel evoked by Evangeline’s narrative – an appealing sense of intimacy with the reader.

The second modern storyline, Frieda’s search for meaning in her life, is distinctly different from Evangeline’s in form but her journey no less engaging for me. This is told in third person and hence has a greater feeling of detachment from the reader but this device conveys well Frieda’s feeling of isolation within the modern world – her loneliness within a crowd. Joinson uses symbolism in her prose to great effect also.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson is a grand story filled with glorious detail and powerful introspection.

The mystery of the connection between the alternating storylines is gradually revealed, with not all twists as unexpected as perhaps intended. There were also a couple of occasions where I would have liked story threads to be explored a little further, but this is one of those novels whose mystique comes from what is left unsaid.

The real power of this work however is as a meditation on life. Joinson’s prose has a real sense of artistry and wisdom.

A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar reminds us that things are rarely what they first appear to be and of the peace one can achieve by approaching life and the people in it with a curious and open mind and adventurous spirit. The world is a grand stage and we all have a part to play. Our actions, or in many cases, inaction will influence the lives of others now and in the future.

I highly recommend A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar and eagerly await the release of Suzanne Joinson’s next title, The Photographer’s Wife. She is an author with an interesting perspective and undoubtedly more compelling tales to tell.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5  —  Overall 4.75

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About the Author, Suzanne Joinson

Suzanne Joinson works in the literature department of the British Council, and regularly travels widely across the Middle East, North Africa, China and Europe. In 2007 she won the New Writing Ventures Award for Creative Non-Fiction for ‘Laila Ahmed’. She is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, and lives by the sea on the South Coast of England.

* I received a copy of this novel from Bloomsbury for review purposes. My receiving this book for free in no way affected my ability to express my honest opinions about it.

More captivating historical fiction:
The Philosopher’s Daughter’s by Alison Booth  /  Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter  /  Gillespie and I by Jane Harris  /  Oscar & Lucinda by Peter Carey  /  After Darkness by Christine Piper