Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Review: A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

This story follows the lives of a handful of people whose paths cross and are connected in various ways. Joinson's tale skips between modern day England and 1920's Northern China, and both the characters and the world they live in are brought to convincing life.

Frieda, in modern day London, is a young woman whose life is in some disarray; both her career and relationships. She finds Tayeb, a filmmaker forced to flee his native Yemen, sleeping outside her apartment. Inviting him in they become friends and he begins to help her with emptying the apartment of a old lady who has died, and although Frieda does not know who it is, has been identified as the next of kin.

In Kashgar, a trio of lady Missionaries venture into Kashgar in remote China where they become involved with the death of a woman giving birth. Eva, our narrator for these chapters, must help take care of the baby whilst the women are held in house arrest awaiting trial for the murder. Their mission is lead by Millicent, a blinkered authoritative woman, and also with them is her sister Lizzie who is dizzy and somewhat intoxicated by Millicent.

Each of Eva's chapters begin with a quote from 'The Lady Cyclists guide', a book which Eva has brought along on the journey along with her bicycle. These quotes have an old school charm of their own and the anonymous author becomes another character of the book.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the many little details and observations that bring the world to life. Similarly the characters all have unique voices and their motivations in life are easy to understand and empathise with. Tayeb's chapters, for example, capture a believable portrait of what England must be like to an exile without papers; always moving, always at risk of being discovered and sent home.

The story moves at a moderate pace and everything is tied up nicely at the end. In summary a richly interesting and enjoyable tale that has been finely crafted.

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