Amodini's Reviews > A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
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Jan 31, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2012

The book has two parallel tracks, each running independently until the later half of the book where we begin to glimpse tenuous links. In the first in 1923, Evangeline has set off for a trip along the Silk Route with sister Elizabeth, and Lizzie’s friend Milicent Frost. The second track is set in modern day London telling us Freida Blaekman’s tale. Tired of her travel and work and unhappy with her personal life, Frieda meets Tayeb, a middle-aged illegal immigrant who lands up on her stoop, seeking shelter.

I was looking forward to this book because of its female-centric theme and expected a book similar to Tracy Chevalier’s feminist tales. The allusion to cycling drew me in, with the close connection between cycling for women and the evolution of women’s dress from the corseted gowns to the relatively comfortable pantaloons. Eva takes her bicycle on the journey and Freida has found it to be her mode of deliverance.

Interestingly both women, separated by generations, want to be free, and by inference empowered, and see cycling as a way of achieving it. While this is a well-written book and a decent read, I did not find the prose or the intention as lucid as Chevalier’s. I did find Eva’s situation surreal and her too passive a heroine – she acted, but only under the most trying circumstances. I liked Freida more.

On the plus side the settings are beautifully described, and the village of Kashgar and the surroundings of the three English women come to life in Joinson’s prose. The clash between the cultures and religions is interestingly portrayed. This book does sketch out the travails of women now and then, and their search for independence, and it makes for a thought-provoking, if melancholic read. If you’re looking for a woman’s travelogue (theres a cycle on the cover and it in the title!) with uplifiting notions of feminist belief or action, this is not it. Rather, it takes the “cycling theme” and it’s notional baggage and uses it to tie together the stories of women in two different times. Fans of women’s fiction will be pleased.
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