A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

3.1 15
by Suzanne Joinson, Susan Duerden
     
 

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Like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a wondrous, richly conceived, irresistible debut novel that sweeps the listener away to a different world.
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Overview

Like Major Pettigrew's Last Stand or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a wondrous, richly conceived, irresistible debut novel that sweeps the listener away to a different world.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
Joinson's debut is an engrossing narrative that fuses the lives of two women, Eva and Frieda, separated by a 100 years and a 1000 miles yet connected in ways that are slowly revealed. Eva, masquerading as a missionary in Kashgar, East Turkestan, in order to keep an eye on her possibly mad sister, is ostensibly writing a guide to bicycling the region. Frieda, a modern-day government worker in London, is hiding from her married lover while cleaning out the apartment of a mysterious woman who has died and named Frieda her next of kin. Alternating between past and present, Joinson highlights the difficulties women face, which translate across time, as well as their sisterhood, motherhood, lovers, and careers, through ethereal language and engrossing characters. Full of surprising and shocking revelations, this wide-ranging novel is expansive and breathtaking. Narrator Susan Duerden may have detracted from the book's sense of illusory enchantment with her overly formal elocution. VERDICT Recommended to fans of Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone. ["Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages the reader, nicely reminding us that odd twists of fate sometimes aren't that odd. Highly recommended," read the starred review of the Bloomsbury hc, LJ 2/1/12.—Ed.]—Terry Ann Lawler, Phoenix P.L.
Sara Wheeler
…thrilling and densely plotted…Joinson, who has herself traveled widely on behalf of the British Council, controls her narrative with skill: this is an impressive debut, its prose as lucid and deep as a mountain lake. Joinson also has a gift for evoking finely calibrated shifts of feeling.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Present and past meld into an exploration of conflicting traditions in an impressive debut that shifts smoothly between 1920s Turkestan and present-day England. In 1923, Evangeline (Eva) English accompanies her fragile sister, Lizzie, on a missionary trip to the ancient Chinese-ruled Muslim city of Kashgar under the supervision of the stern Millicent Frost, who suspects, accurately, that Eva, with her prized bicycle—a “glorious, green BSA Lady’s Roadster”—and passion for writing, is more interested in adventure than proselytizing. Surprisingly (and disappointingly), Eva’s story is lacking in cycling and exciting exploits. In the present day, well-traveled but stuffy researcher Frieda Blakeman is startled by the appearance of both a letter deeming her the next-of-kin of a recently deceased woman, and Tayeb, an illegal Yemeni immigrant who takes refuge outside her London apartment. Though Frieda and Tayeb’s growing bond and the unfolding revelations of the modern story are more compelling than Eva’s frustratingly limited experiences and the unpleasantly stereotyped Millicent, Joinson has created in Frieda’s unusual history and the parallel struggles of Tayeb and Eva as outsiders and observers an intriguing window into the difficulties of those who attempt to reach across cultural barriers. Map. Agent: Rachel Calder, the Sayle Literary Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
"Beautifully written in language too taut, piercing, and smartly observed to be called lyrical, this atmospheric first novel immediately engages, nicely reminding us that odd twists of fate sometimes aren't that odd." —Library Journal Starred Review
Library Journal
“I may as well start with the bones,” observes Eva, who in 1923 is traveling with sister Lizzie to the Silk Road city of Kashgar, where they will serve as missionaries. Flash forward to contemporary London, where disaffected Frieda befriends a gentle Yemeni refugee and discovers her link to the sisters. In language that’s taut, piercing, and smartly observed, this atmospheric first novel reminds us to look out for connections and the odd twists of fate. (LJ 2/1/12)—Barbara Hoffert

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
British first-time novelist Joinson intersperses a missionary's adventures along the war-torn Silk Road to China in 1923 with a young woman's more mundane travails in modern-day London. Eva has accompanied her younger sister Lizzie, a talented photographer, and Lizzie's domineering religious mentor Millicent to Asia in 1923 without missionary zeal but in search of adventure. Traveling by bicycle, Eva keeps a notebook she hopes to turn into a book about the journey. After the mother of a baby Millicent has delivered dies, the three British women are placed under house arrest in the Muslim city of Kashgar. As their safety deteriorates, Eva becomes uncomfortably aware of raw sexual tension between emotionally fragile, epileptic Lizzie and authoritarian, religiously fanatic Millicent. Millicent sloughs responsibility for the orphaned infant, called Ai-Lien, onto Eva. Initially, Eva resents the responsibility but soon becomes a passionately devoted mother. Shift to London and Frieda, a think-tank specialist on Islamic youth. Just returned from a researching trip in an unnamed Middle Eastern country in turmoil, Frieda realizes that her five-year affair with her married lover may be ending and learns that she has been named as the only relative and beneficiary in the will of a dead woman named Irene Guy. Eva has never heard of her. Having befriended Tayeb, a homeless Sudanese filmmaker with an expired visa who has been camping out in her hallway, Eva suggests he stay in Irene's now vacant flat. Slowly Frieda and Eva's connections are revealed. Each struggles to find her voice and independence despite social pressures. Each must define love for herself, even if it defies convention. Not only do the exotic locale and life-and-death violence make Eva's story more riveting than Frieda's, but she is also a more compelling heroine; her life defies formulaic expectations, while Frieda's romantic evolution is familiar to any reader of women's fiction. As often happens in novels that travel between past and present, the past sparkles while the present pales.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781452607528
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
05/22/2012
Edition description:
Unabridged CD
Sales rank:
910,691
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

A Novel
By Suzanne Joinson

BLOOMSBURY

Copyright © 2012 Suzanne Joinson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60819-811-5


Chapter One

A Few Things to Remember: Study the country you are to travel and the road-surface, understand your map, know your route, its general direction, etc. Always observe the road you cover; keep a small note-book, and jot down everything of interest. Maria E. Ward, Bicycling for Ladies, 1896

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar – Notes

Kashgar, Eastern Turkestan. May 1st, 1923

I unhappily report that even Bicycling for Ladies with hints as to the art of wheeling – advice to beginners – dress – care of the bicycle – mechanics – training – exercises, etc., etc. cannot assist me in this current predicament: we find ourselves in a situation.

I may as well begin with the bones.

They were scalded, sun-bleached, like tiny flutes and I called out to the carter to stop. It was early evening; anxious to reach our destination we had travelled, in the English fashion, through the hottest part of the day. They were bird bones, piled in front of a tamarisk tree and I suppose my fate could be read from the pattern they made in the dust, if I only knew how to see it.

This was when I heard the cry. An unholy noise, coming from behind a gathering of dead poplar trunks whose presence did nothing to alleviate the desolate nature of this particular desert plain. I climbed down, looking behind me for Millicent and my sister, Elizabeth, but could see neither. Millicent prefers horseback to carts, it is easier for her to stop at will to smoke a Hatamen cigarette.

For five hours our path had descended through a dusty basin, its lowest part dotted with tamarisk trees emerging from mounds of blown soil and sand that had accumulated around their roots; and then, these dead poplars.

Twisted stems of grey-barked saksaul clustered between the trunks, and behind this bracken was a girl on her knees, hunched forward and making an extraordinary noise, much like a bray. In no hurry, the carter joined me and together we stood watching her, he chewing on his splinter of wood – insolent and sly like all of his type – saying nothing. She looked up at us then. She was about ten or eleven years old with a belly as ripe as a Hami melon. The carter simply stared and before I could speak she fell forward, her face on to the ground, mouth open as if to eat the dust and continued her unnerving groans. Behind me I heard the crack of Millicent's horse's hooves on the loose-stoned pathway.

'She's about to give birth,' I said, guessing.

Millicent, our appointed leader, representative of the Missionary Order of the Steadfast Face – our benefactress – took an age to extract herself from the saddle. Hours of travelling had evidently stiffened her. Insects vibrated around us, drawn out by the slackening heat. I watched Millicent. Nothing could be a more incongruous sight in the desert than she, gracelessly dismounting, with her dominant nose cutting the air, and a large ruby ring on her hand at odds with the rest of her mannish dress.

'So young, just a child.'

Millicent bent down and whispered to the girl in Turki. Whatever she said provoked a shout and then came terrible sobs.

'It's happening. We'll need forceps I think.'

Millicent instructed the carter to bring forward the supply cart and began fumbling through our possessions, looking for the medical kit. As she did I saw that a group of women, men and children – a large family perhaps – were coming along the track towards us, pointing and nudging each other with astonishment at us foreign devils with hair like pig straw, standing as real as anything on their path. Millicent looked up at them, then used her preacher voice:

'Stay back and give us room, please.'

Clearly shocked at her accurate words, repeated in both Chinese and Turki, they arranged themselves as if positioning for a photograph, only hushing when the girl in the dust leaned forward on hands and knees and screamed loud enough to kill trees.

'Eva, support her, quickly.'

The crying child, whose swollen stomach was an abomination, looked to me like a dribbling wildcat and I did not want to touch her. None the less, kneeling in the dust in front of her, I pulled her head on to my knees and attempted to stroke her. I heard Millicent ask an elderly woman for help but the hag shrank away, as if contact with us would contaminate her. The wretched girl's face buried against my legs, I felt a wetness from her mouth, possibly she tried to bite but then abruptly she heaved away, back on to the ground. Millicent wrestled with her, turning her over on to her back. The girl let out pitiful cries.

'Hold the head,' Millicent said. I tried to hold her still as Millicent opened her knees and pushed them down with her elbows. The material around her groin came off easily.

My sister still had not arrived. She too prefers to travel by horseback so that she can go at whim into the desert to 'photograph sand'. She believes that she can capture sight of Him in the grains and dunes. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow ... These and other words she sings in the peculiar high voice she has acquired since being fully possessed with the forces of religion. I looked round for her, but it was futile.

I can still hear those screams now, a hideous anguished noise, as Millicent pushed her finger into flesh, creating a space for the forceps until a combination of blood and some other liquid came out, streaking her wrist.

'We should not do this,' I said. 'Let's move her into the town instead, there must be someone more experienced than us.'

'No time. All merciful Christ look upon us and preserve us,' Millicent did not look at me, 'thy servants, from fear and evil spirits, which hope to destroy the work of Thy hands.'

Forceps pushed in and a scream that was white-pitched murder.

'Lord, alleviate the hardships of our pregnancy,' Millicent said, tugging, pulling as she incanted, 'and grant us the strength and fortitude to give birth and enable this with Thine all-powerful help.'

'We should not do this,' I repeated. The girl's hair was damp and her eyes were panic-filled, like a horse in a thunderstorm. Millicent tipped her own head back so that her eye-glasses retreated along her nose. Then, with a quick movement, as if pulling up an anchor, a blue-red creature came slithering out along with a great swill of watery substance and was caught, like a fish, in Millicent's hands. Blood from the young mother quickly formed a red crescent in the dust. Millicent put her knife to the umbilical cord.

Lizzie came then, Leica camera in hand, wearing our uniform of black satin trousers covered with a dark-blue silk skirt and a black Chinese cotton over-coat. Her skirt hem was blotted with the pink dust that engulfs everything here. She stood, staring at the scene before her like a lost girl at the edge of a fairground.

'Lizzie, get water.'

Millicent's knife separated for ever the baby from its mother who shuddered, her head lolling back as the fish-baby loudly demanded to be let into heaven. The crescent continued to grow.

'She's losing too much blood,' Millicent said. The girl's face had turned to the side; she no longer struggled.

'What can we do?'

Millicent began a soft prayer that I could not hear very well beneath the cries of the baby.

'We should move her, find help,' I said, but Millicent did not respond. I watched her lift the mother's hand. She shook her head, did not look up at me.

'Millicent, no.'

I spoke uselessly, but I could not believe it: a life disappeared in front of us, down into the desert cracks, as simple as a shift in the clouds. Immediately, there was uproar from our gaping spectators.

'What are they saying Lizzie?' I shouted. Blood kept coming from between her legs, a hopeful tide looking for a shore. Lizzie stared at the red tracks on Millicent's wrist.

'They are saying we have killed this girl,' she said, 'and that we have stolen her heart to protect ourselves from the sandstorms.'

'What?' The faces in the crowd dared to come close to me, rushing against me, placing their hands with black nails on me. I pushed the hands away.

'They say we have taken the girl to give ourselves strength, and that we plan to steal the baby and eat it.' Lizzie spoke quickly, in that odd, high voice. Her ability with this impenetrable Turki language is much better than mine.

'She died in childbirth, natural causes, as you can all very well see,' Millicent shouted uselessly in English, and then repeated it in Turki. Lizzie set about bringing water in our tankards and a blanket.

'They are demanding that we are shot.'

'Nonsense.' Millicent took the blanket from Lizzie and they stood together; a lady and her handmaiden.

'Now, who', Millicent held the screeching baby high up as if it were a severed head, an offering, 'will take this baby?'

There was not a sound from the disbelieving faces watching her.

'Who is responsible for this baby girl? Is there a relative?'

I knew already. No one wanted her. None of that crowd even looked at the girl in the dust, just a child herself, or at the blood becoming earth. Insects walked on her legs already. Lizzie held the blanket out and Millicent wrapped the furious, wailing scrap of bone and skin into a bundle. Without saying anything she handed it to me.

We were then 'escorted' by the family elder and his son to Kashgar's city gates where, through whatever magical form of communication, notice of our arrival had already been received. The Magistrates' Court was open, despite it being early evening, and a Chinese official brought in, because, although this is a Moslem–Turkic area, it is ruled by the Chinese. Our carts were searched through, our possessions examined. They took my bicycle from the back of the cart and it, as well as us I suppose, attracted a large crowd. Bicycles are rarely seen here, and a woman riding one is simply unimaginable.

Millicent explained: 'We are missionaries, entirely peaceful. We came upon the young mother as we approached your city.' Then, 'Sit as still as the Buddha,' she whispered. 'Indifference is best in situations like these.'

The baby's skull was a curious hot thing in my hand, not soft, but neither hard; a padded shell filled with new blood. This was the first time I had ever held a baby so new, and a baby girl. I wrapped her in the blanket, tight, and held her against me in an effort to soothe the angry fists and the purple-red face of a raging soul howling with indignation and terror. Eventually, she swooned into an exhausted sleep. I checked her every moment, fearful that she would die. We struggled to sit as still as we could. There were murmurs and discussions in the fast local dialect. Millicent and Lizzie hissed at me:

'Cover your hair.'

I quickly adjusted my scarf. Like my mother's, my hair is a terrible, bright red, and in this region it seems to be a sensation. Along the last stage of our journey from Osh to Kashgar in particular men stared with open mouths as if I were naked, as if I were cavorting before them with wings on my back and silver rings in my nose. In the villages children ran towards me, pointing, then moved backwards as though scared until I was done with it and covered my head with a scarf like a Mohammedan. This worked, but it had fallen off during the scuffle in the dust.

Millicent translated: due to the accusations of the witnesses we were to undergo a trial, charged with murder and witchcraft (or the summoning of devils). Or rather, Millicent was. She was the one who had held the baby aloft and had used her knife on the girl.

'We will have to bribe our way out of this,' Millicent whispered, her face was as hard as the sun-charred desert earth.

'We will give you the money,' Millicent said, her voice quiet, but clear, 'though we have to send a message to our supporters in Shanghai and Moscow, which will take some days.'

'You will be our guests,' the official responded. 'Our great city of Kashi is pleasured to host you.'

We are, therefore, forced to remain in this pink, dusty basin. Not under 'house-arrest' exactly, though as we must have permission to leave the house, I confess I fail to see the difference.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson Copyright © 2012 by Suzanne Joinson. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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