A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar
In 1923, Evangeline English is stagnating in gray, sedentary Dorset. When her sister Lizzie joins Millicent Frost, a charismatic missionary, in a venture to the Far East, Evangeline sees it as her chance to escape dreary England, despite not having the same religious fervor. Knowing they will be traveling to Kashgar, where no British woman has been, she approaches a publisher to propose writing a travel guide giving a woman’s view of the region and its people. But disaster strikes before they even enter Kashgar, and the three women find themselves imprisoned in the very city they wished to visit.
In present-day London, a young woman, Frieda, finds a Yemeni man sleeping on her doorstep. She gives him a blanket and pillow and, the next morning, finds a drawing of a bird on top of the folded bedding. The two begin a curious friendship just as Frieda learns she’s inherited the contents of a flat from a deceased woman she’s never met. Frieda’s story weaves with Evangeline’s, as she slowly discovers more about who she is.
This was a fun read, with surprises neatly unfolding to a satisfying ending. The characters were engaging, with even Lizzie and Millicent carrying secrets that ultimately impact events in Kashgar. Evangeline and Frieda are fragile and searching, but both find an inner strength and independence over the course of the book. In a novel with alternating stories, it’s often hard to keep them both equally compelling, but Joinson maintains a handle on her characters, and I never lost interest in one story or the other. She does an excellent job of sustaining a strong narrative voice in Evangeline’s epistolary chapters. A well-written and enjoyable read.