Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Author: Suzanne Joinson
Genre: Literary fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA, 2012
Read for: Review
Eva and her sister Lizzie have joined the persuasive Millicent as missionaries to Kashgar, although Eva's actual motives are less than honorable -- she intends to write a book about her experience going through Asia on her bicycle. Kashgar proves to be more perilous than expected, leading to tragedy for all three women, and a new outlook on life for Eva. In a second narrative, Frieda, the daughter of a New Age mystic who deserted her at the age of seven, receives a mysterious call alerting her that a woman named Irene Guy has died and listed Frieda as her next of kin. Pulling with her a displaced immigrant running from the police, Frieda seeks to unravel the mystery of her connection to Irene Guy.
A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar had some interesting elements. However, in the end they did not unite well, and I was ultimately dissatisfied with this read.
For me the book was disjointed; there were too many different elements pulling in different directions and they never seemed to align. There was no cohesive theme or element to pull together the two narratives -- while the connection is revealed by the end of the book, the reason the two stories were told together seemed shaky at best. I felt as if the author was trying too hard to integrate mysterious, unique, and at times grotesque details when a little restraint would have given a stronger impression. When too much is thrown in at once, the story ceases to be believable.
I also felt that the historical narrative's background was obscure enough to warrant a little background. From what I could discern from the narrative, the women were in Kashgar, which is part of China but mainly inhabited by Muslims. In the book there was a great deal of mistrust aimed at the missionaries, as well as rebellions and civil unrest. The author puts these scenes in motion, but I was frustrated by the fact that I didn't know anything about the situation except that there was unrest and that the people seemed offended at the religious pamphlets the missionary women were distributing. I appreciate a book that doesn't lay everything out for the reader, but in this case I think more information would have made the book a more interesting and a more comprehensible story.
I will say that the writing was well-done for the most part, with poetic images and vivid language. Many of the images were vibrant in my mind, especially scenes with Tayeb, the immigrant who befriends and helps Frieda solve the mystery of Irene Guy's past. However, there were a few instances when the writing was a little overwrought for the dialogue. For example, there is a scene where Frieda is flashing back to the age of seven, where she says several things that just did not seem natural coming from a seven-year-old. (It is bad form that I haven't quoted it -- while trying to sort the book into my "Read" folder on my Kindle I accidentally deleted the scene I had highlighted). However, for the most part the writing was lush and kept me reading even though the plot was not coming together for me in a satisfying way.
Ultimately, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar fell flat for me. Beautiful images and well-constructed sentences were not enough to pull the story together.
Warnings: Brief strong language, disturbing images, violence, brief scene of sensuality