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Reviewed: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson, Bloomsbury

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarSuzanne Joinson unfurls two elegant, exotic stories in this vivid novel. The first is that of Evangeline English, who travels to the old Silk Road city of Kashgar in 1923. Though she is not religious, Eva is desperate to flee the drear of Post-War England, so she joins her fragile sister Lizzie and the loathsome missionary Millicent on a journey to remote China to scoop up a few Muslim souls.

Eva insists on taking her bicycle, and persuades a publisher to a commission her to write a book: A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. The trip is a disaster from the get-go as they barrel into violent political unrest, and when a young girl dies in childbirth in their care, they are accused of murder and witchcraft.

Cut to present-day London, where Frieda Blakeman is sleepwalking through her life, trying to sever a bad relationship, increasingly bored with her academic job which entails constant travelling in the middle east, a life she sees as “continual movement in circles away from herself.”

One night Frieda finds a homeless man sheltering outside her door. He is an illegal immigrant, a Yemeni filmmaker, and they become friends. When Frieda is named as the sole beneficiary of a woman she doesn’t know, she and Tayeb set out to trace the mystery of this unexpected inheritance.

Joinson’s descriptions of Kashgar and Eva’s flight across what is now the Xinjiang province are captivating. The history of the area is intriguing and will have you disappearing down alleys on the internet, viewing the stupendous mountains and deserts of the region, and Kashgar as it stands today. Combining this with the story of Frieda and Tayeb, Joinson leads us to reflect on the inheritance of history, on the nature of alienation and belonging and the many manifestations of freedom. A remarkable book.

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