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I just finished reading A Lady's Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar, a book that had been on my reading list for a while. I had initially chosen to read this book because the concept sounded so great. After all, it is about a group of female British missionaries traveling through the Middle East via bicycles in the 1920s, so what couldn't be bad about it? Plus, I liked the idea that there was a "flash back" element with the Frieda of the 1920s, and another Frieda in our time, who inherits contents in the apartment, which we later find out is the original journal that one of the 1920s missionaries kept while traveling to Kashgar.
However, when I first started reading this book, I will admit I had a hard time appreciating Joinson's vision. The reason why was because the flashbacks don't immediately tap into the link between the two Friedas, nor hint enough at the link to make you motivated enough to want to learn. I even had a hard time motivating myself for a while to read it, because it seemed like it took about 100-200 pages into the book to actually realize the link and comprehend why Joinson chose to use flashbacks as part of the narrative between both Friedas.
Nonetheless, I have grown fond of this book and I applaud Joinson for her vision of creating this novel that celebrates feminine resilience and Middle Eastern culture. Her narrative choices are very well done, however can be confusing to the reader because she goes back and forth from the 1920s journal, written in the first person, and the third person narrative about 21st century Frieda. Since there are two stories going on at the same time, with no clear link at first (and not even a hint) it may make you feel like that the journal's story is being unnecessarily interrupted by this other story that you are unsure of where it came from. Furthermore, the details that Joinson gives us about the characters isn't that interesting, nor enveloping in regards to creating the scene as I know I would personally like to see, especially since this novel takes place in the Middle East and Joinson lived and traveled in the Middle East for many years. Nonetheless, Joinson's use of Middle Eastern culture, language and history in this novel reflects her familiarity with the region. I personally would have liked to have seen more descriptive elements that helped to paint a more vivid picture of the Middle Eastern experience that 1920s Frieda and her fellow missionaries experienced and saw. I just didn't feel as transported with the journal's narrative as I did with the third person narrative of 21st century Frieda, which seemed to be more interesting.
Despite that sentiment, this is a worthy read and I'm glad that I read it. It is well written, well thought out, characters are good but I didn't find them to be memorable. I will warn that this is a very complex, slow read that is not for everyone. If you like to read literature, however, and don't mind complicated narratives and slowly developing plots you will enjoy this novel. I don't feel this novel is character driven, but the characters are certainly integral and do contribute to plot development. However, the novel's narrative is plot driven, in regards to revealing the plot, the purpose and link of the characters, and the themes within the plot.